Sens. Raphael Warnock and John Ossof of Georgia. Photos via AP
Sens. Raphael Warnock and John Ossof of Georgia.

Both Georgia Senate seats flipped from red to blue, and that’s shaking up the Senate in ways that could help Michiganders.

LANSING, Mich.—There’s a barrier in Washington that’s keeping Michiganders from getting the help they need. His name is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

Following a political flip that rocked Georgia in early 2021, McConnell might be on the way out and real support for Michiganders might finally be coming. 

Many times over the course of 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer cried out for support for state and local governments who have seen a drastic drop in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic. Many times, her pleas went unanswered. McConnell and outgoing President Donald Trump have firmly opposed that aid. 

But the political winds are shifting in Washington, and the result could be more sympathy for Gov. Whitmer’s position.

In early January, the state of Georgia held its runoff elections, ousting its two Republican senators in favor of two Democrats. This titanic shift in Georgian politics has also led to a small but critical shift in the Senate. Those two victories put the Senate at an exactly 50-50 tie, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris charged with the tie breaking vote. That leaves it extremely unlikely that McConnell retains Senate control. 

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Now, given the procedural hurdle posed by filibusters, Democrats remain 10 votes shy of being able to really run the Senate’s outcome on most bills, but the new Democratic speaker has tremendous power in deciding what will and won’t even be considered by the chamber. Famously, McConnell used his position as Majority Leader to prevent an entire slate of progressive or Democratic issues from even being considered in the Senate, relishing his role as the self-appointed “grim reaper” of progressive policies. 

Simply by allowing proposals to help state and local budgets to come to a vote, a Democratic Majority Leader could allow a great deal of stalled legislation, including the support of state and local governments, to come to a vote. 

But there is, of course, far more that has been restrained by McConnell. 

The $2,000 Stimulus Families Need Is Back on the Table   

Other coronavirus issues like the $2,000 stimulus payments Democrats and Trump actually aligned on might become more achievable, as Senate Republicans were split on the matter. A Majority Leader willing to have the debate could provide those Republicans a chance to vote for the stronger infusion of funds into the economy. 

SEE ALSO: These Five Michigan Reps. Voted Against $2,000 Coronavirus Relief

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow starkly criticized McConnell for blocking that particular vote in a statement. 

“Michigan families are hurting and need a survival check to help put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads, and pay the heating bill,” she wrote. “Democrats and Republicans in the House came together to pass $2,000 stimulus checks for the American people, but Senator McConnell just blocked the bill. Our families are in desperate need of help and Senate Republicans are standing in the way.”

Better Preparing to Respond to Michigan Crises   

This also would allow Democrats to be appointed chair of the Senate’s various committees, giving them more control over the investigative and oversight role of Congress. One area in particular that this might hit home for Michiganders is oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is a cause championed by Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Gary Peters

“When a disaster strikes, minority communities often experience some of the most serious impacts, yet they are often the last to receive disaster relief assistance and receive smaller amounts than other communities,” Peters said in a statement. “The ongoing coronavirus public health emergency has once again highlighted long standing inequities in our disaster response systems. We must do more to protect our most vulnerable and underserved communities.”

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FEMA was involved in the responses both to the coronavirus pandemic an the failure of the Midland dam in 2020, and their lackluster response to these emergencies drew Peters’ attention, and his investigation. As the ranking member of the committees overseeing FEMA in the McConnell Senate, Peters is a likely candidate to chair one of those committees in a Democratic-controlled Senate, making him better positioned to investigate FEMA’s shortcomings. 

Knowing the exact shape of the Senate in 2021 is impossible at the moment, but seeing the victories of Georgia Democrats tip the scales in the higher chamber of Congress sets up some massive changes in Washington that Michigan will feel for at least the next two years.