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With Democrats Poised to Seize Senate, Progressives Urge Party to Go Big

Democrats may soon have a mandate to pursue a transformative policy agenda tackling the nation’s immediate crises.

Georgia Democratic candidate Rev. Raphael Warnock speaks at his Labor Canvass Launch at IBEW Local 613 on January 5, 2021, in Marietta, Georgia.

With the Democratic Party poised to take control of the U.S. Senate on the back of projected victories by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff — achievements made possible by tireless grassroots organizing — progressives on Wednesday wasted no time making clear that Democrats will soon have a mandate to urgently pursue a transformative policy agenda aimed at tackling the immediate crises facing the nation and securing a just, livable future.

Major networks declared Warnock the winner over Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) early Wednesday, and Decision Desk HQ projected that Ossoff will emerge victorious in his race against Republican David Perdue. If Warnock and Ossoff’s leads hold, as they’re expected to, Democrats and Republicans will each hold 50 seats in the Senate, putting Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the role of tie-breaker. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is set to become Senate minority leader.

After applauding the historic nature of the likely runoff victories — Warnock is on track to become the first Black senator from Georgia, and Ossoff the state’s first Jewish senator — progressive activists and lawmakers swiftly pivoted to detailing what Democrats must do to ensure that the wins bring about desperately needed change.

“Victory in Georgia must lead to transformative change across America,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). “Recurring survival checks, union jobs that pay a living wage, guaranteed healthcare, racial justice, voting rights, immigration reform, climate action, reproductive justice, education, and much more. It can’t wait!”

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) added simply, “The era of small ideas is over.”

In the late stages of their pivotal campaigns, Warnock and Ossoff both threw their support behind the effort to deliver $2,000 direct payments to most Americans, a popular push — led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Senate and CPC members in the House — that may have given the Georgia Democrats a last-minute boost.

With President-elect Joe Biden also behind the demand, the checks were viewed as a no-brainer relief measure that Democrats could pursue immediately upon taking power to provide rapid financial assistance to millions of Americans struggling to afford food, rent, and healthcare amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Why yes, I just asked Majority Leader Schumer’s office when the $2,000 checks bill would hit the Senate floor,” The American Prospect’s David Dayen tweeted late Tuesday as the election results rolled in.

The direct payments, as well as other significant Democratic legislative priorities, could be passed through budget reconciliation, a process that requires only a simple majority vote — something that could still prove hard to achieve, given the willingness of right-wing Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to buck the party.

Making matters more difficult for Democrats seeking bold change is the legislative filibuster, which requires at least 60 votes to clear. While only a simple majority is needed to kill the filibuster — the persistence of which could effectively give Republicans veto power over big-ticket policy items — Manchin has made clear that he is ardently opposed to such a reform.

“If Democrats win both Senate seats in GA, it’s going to be hard to explain why they should promptly re-empower McConnell by seeking small-ball deals with him instead of getting rid of the filibuster and passing Biden’s big, bold agenda,” Adam Jentleson, public affairs director at Democracy Forward, said late Tuesday. “Biden has a mandate. Time to use it.”

“Many senators who once opposed going nuclear later supported it,” Jentleson added. “For Biden it’s a question of whether he’d rather spend his energy courting folks like Manchin to pass big stuff, or chasing McConnell (plus 10 Republicans) for small deals that probably won’t materialize anyway.”

Take Back the Court, an organization dedicated to reforming the U.S. judicial system, warned that if Democrats fail to make effective use of their Senate majority, Biden’s legislative agenda “is mostly DOA” and the nation “will return to an authoritarian trajectory once the GOP returns to power.”

With Trump and his Republican allies continuing to wage war on democracy, Indivisible co-executive director Ezra Levin said early Wednesday that he “cannot stress enough how existentially important it is for Dems to enact democracy reform ASAP.”

“These attacks from Trump and his acolytes will only intensify while they’re out of power,” Levin warned.

In his newsletter Wednesday morning, meteorologist Eric Holthaus called Warnock and Ossoff’s projected victories “incredibly good news for the planet,” but stressed that the work of advancing a policy agenda sufficient to prevent the worst of the climate emergency and ensure a just transition away from fossil fuels has just begun.

“The implications of Tuesday night’s victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock cannot be overstated in terms of climate action,” Holthaus argued. “The effects will reverberate for centuries and millennia in the climate system. For once, it’s OK to feel tremendous hope for the future. We’ve earned it. We deserve to look ahead to a livable future.”

“But… change won’t happen unless we demand it,” added Holthaus. “This is the moment we’ve been preparing for. It’s time to celebrate a new era of possibility, and it’s time to get to work.”

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