What’s holding up the stimulus bill? We’ll tell you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

As the ballots from the Nov. 3 election continue to be counted, top US leaders are turning an eye toward the next two weeks, when the Senate and House of Representatives return to Washington to finish out their current congressional terms. The negotiations to pass a new economic relief bill that would target the spread of COVID-19 and aim to strengthen the economy are top of the agenda.

“That’s Job 1,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday, referring to fighting the coronavirus by funding programs in another stimulus bill. It isn’t clear if the Kentucky Republican, who won reelection, supports a new stimulus check in the next bill.

Although McConnell reversed course and is now pushing for a deal before the end of 2020, the deep divisions that halted negotiations on the White House’s $1.9 trillion proposal (more below) could once again rear up. We’ve identified six of the biggest issues that currently divide Republicans and Democrats regarding such a bill. This story is updated regularly.

The amount of additional money for unemployment benefits

The ongoing argument between Republicans and Democrats over extra unemployment benefits (also called unemployment insurance) paints a clear picture of where each side stands — and the significant gulf between them. The CARES Act gave $600 per week to unemployed job seekers, on top of their usual unemployment check, in response to job loss caused by the pandemic.

With the CARES Act lapsed, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in August to fund a $300 per week bonus if states participated. That has mostly petered out or will by Dec. 31. Once again, the Democrats seek $600 per week and Republicans in the Senate and administration aim for $300 or $400 on top of the individual’s usual unemployment benefit. The White House proposal would provision $400, according to The Washington Post.

Local and state funding

The White House’s Oct. 9 offer for $1.8 trillion (it’s now closer to $1.9 trillion) included $300 billion for states and local funding that would in part pay the salaries of first responders, health workers and teachers. The Trump administration has balked at the funding, calling it a bailout of Democrat-run cities.The Democrat-authored Heroes Act from May (which has now been revised down from $3 trillion to a $2.2 trillion proposal) initially set aside over $1 trillion for this category. 

McConnell conceded on Nov. 4 that state and local funding may be included in a different future proposal, though it isn’t clear how much he may be willing to offer.

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Liability protection to shield businesses from suits involving COVID-19-related illnesses and more

Republican legislators have adamantly supported COVID-19 liability protections, which would limit people from suing businesses, schools and hospitals if they acquired the coronavirus, except for instances of gross negligence. 

“I want to make sure that we protect the people we’ve already sent assistance to who are going to be set up for an avalanche of lawsuits if we don’t act,” McConnell said in April. Pelosi has resisted these protections. “I think that there is a balance that can be struck, but it isn’t the McConnell language,” she said Oct. 20, indicating that some sort of shielding for businesses and other institutions could be present in a final bill.

Earned income tax credits for working families

The Earned Income Tax Credit would let American taxpayers with low or moderate incomes reduce how much money they owe in a given year. In the context of a stimulus bill, it would in part expand the number of people who are eligible and the amount they could apply toward their total tax return for 2021. 

Similarly, the Child Tax Credit lets taxpayers claim a credit on their yearly tax returns of up to $2,000 per child dependent. Democrats propose to make 2020’s credit fully refundable, and send advance payments ahead of the 2021 tax season so that people have access to the money sooner. 

These credits remain issues in the stimulus bill negotiations.


Both sides are weighing the options for an eventual stimulus package.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Funding for coronavirus treatment, tracing and testing

Democrats are seeking money for coronavirus testing, contact tracing and isolation measures, in addition to money for hospitals and health care providers. Mnuchin said on Oct. 15 that Pelosi’s requirements to include this funding wouldn’t get in the way of a bill. Since then, the two sides have squabbled over the precise language that would make it into law and have not come to terms.

Child care and school funding

The revised Heroes Act seeks $182 billion for K-12 and $39 billion for higher education. It also mentions $57 billion for child care. School funding is also part of the Republican agenda and was most recently in the Senate’s $500 billion “skinny” bill that failed to advance in the chamber on Oct. 21 as well as in September when it received its first vote. This narrower bill was blocked by Senate Democrats both times.

What are the contents of the White House’s proposal?

When the White House offer first came through on Oct. 9, we glimpsed the starting point of what the bill could contain. Since then, bits and pieces of information have trickled out, giving us a rough sketch of the bill’s funding. 

It’s estimated that the package could now be worth $1.9 trillion or even more. The CARES Act from March cost $2 trillion and the House of Representatives’ revised Heroes Act came in at $2.2 trillion. Here’s what we know based on early details from The Washington Post and what we’ve heard since.

Another stimulus payment: Stimulus checks of up to $1,200 for eligible adults and $1,000 for qualifying child dependents (the CARES Act set dependent payments at $500). Here’s how you can calculate an estimate of your total sum if this change sticks. 

Unemployment benefits: The proposal originally set enhanced unemployment benefits at $400 a week. That’s down from the $600 included in the CARES Act, but up from the $300 that the president authorized this summer through executive action. The final figure remains a sticking point in negotiations.

This is what we don’t know about the package under discussion

There is much the two sides have not revealed about the current plan’s details and cost. But we know that at some point these funding areas have come up for one or both parties:

While we wait to see how and when negotiations over the next stimulus package resume, here’s what you need to know about coronavirus hardship loansunemployment insurance and what you can do if you’ve lost your job.

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