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Stimulus package: Senate is back in session and a bill is ‘job one.’ Could talks restart this week?


Will a political divide keep interfering with stimulus negotiations? There’s new hope for a compromise.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Senate is back in session on Monday, and with the chamber’s return to Washington comes the promise of renewed activity to put together another stimulus package before the end of 2020, and before the inauguration on Jan. 20 of President-elect Joe Biden

“This [virus] is not going to go away until we kill it. So that’s job one,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Nov. 4.

Top politicians and economists see stimulus measures as a crucial way to stop the spread of the coronavirus, through injecting money into the economy by way of a second stimulus check, extra weekly unemployment benefits and funding programs like vaccine development and distribution. The few remaining COVID benefits are set to expire Dec. 31. 

“While we prepare for the new Biden administration, we must also move swiftly for a new coronavirus relief bill,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Nov. 6, before the final votes were counted in Biden’s favor. “We want the Republicans to come back to the table.”

Despite the agreement, roadblocks remain. Although Biden has a COVID-19 relief plan of his own — which includes a second stimulus check for up to $1,200 per adult — it’ll be President Donald Trump who would sign a successful package if Congress is able to set aside deep partisan divisions and strike a deal.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


A new stimulus battle is primed to begin

Already, a fresh conflict awaits over the shape of stimulus aid. On one side is McConnell, who said Nov. 6 that “something smaller” is “more appropriate,” according to The Washington Post. On the other is Pelosi, who helped usher a $2.2 trillion bill through the House of Representatives last month.

Pelosi has rejected the idea of a narrow stimulus package. “That isn’t anything that we should even be looking at,” she said during a Nov. 6 morning press conference. 

The fates of a second stimulus check, extra weekly unemployment benefits for millions of Americans and aid for coronavirus testing are unknown as well. Though McConnell has favored another direct payment in the past, his recent efforts have been to try to pass narrow pieces of legislation that come in at a fraction of the cost of sweeping omnibus proposals and don’t include more stimulus checks.


Stimulus check negotiations could still go up in smoke if two conflicting sides can’t reach a deal.

CNET Staff

The fundamental differences in the size and scope of proposed stimulus aid make a clash almost inevitable, and it isn’t clear what role — if any — Trump would play in shaping a bill designed to come to a vote before the presidential inauguration.

Economists have forecast that surging cases of COVID-19, combined with a lapse in the few remaining stimulus benefits left, will hobble the economy and put “millions of Americans” at risk of having power and water shut off and not being able to afford groceries. (Read more about the K-shaped recovery.) 

“We’ll have a stronger recovery if we can just get at least some more fiscal support,” the chairman of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, said Thursday (PDF). “When it’s appropriate and at the size Congress thinks is appropriate,” he added.

With Republicans gaining seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate potentially split 50-50 between the two parties, some analysts have suggested that Pelosi may have trouble pushing through objectives, regardless of who the president is. Without full control of Congress, Pelosi may lose leverage, some predict. 

There’s additional pressure, too. A new bill of some sort will need to be passed to avoid a US government shutdown on Dec. 11. It’s possible that stimulus funding of some sort will make it into that bill. 

Before the election, Trump made his position clear. “We will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election,” he said on Oct. 30. But Trump seemingly based his commitment on the condition of him winning and the House of Representatives and Senate solidifying Republican majorities.


Democrats and Republicans have disagreed on how much relief aid should be included in the stimulus package. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What could happen between now and Biden’s inauguration?

Here are some possible scenarios that could play out over the coming weeks.

A stimulus bill is completed before Jan. 20: An agreement is made and the current House and Senate vote. If Trump signs it into law, stimulus checks and other aid would likely begin to go out within weeks, with certain groups receiving financial help before the end of 2020.

A stimulus deal is finalized and fails in either the Senate or House: In this situation, the Democrats and Republicans could advance their own proposals that might pass in their majority chambers, but fail (or fail to be considered) by the other. In this case, Congress might try again after Biden is sworn in as president.

Some funding could be included in a bill that also funds the government past Dec 11: It’s possible that one piece of funding, for example a stimulus check, unemployment aid or an extension of the eviction stay, could make it into a bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 11 and avoid a shutdown. As sitting president, Trump would need to sign the bill into law for it to take effect.

Talks once again fall apart until after Jan. 20: If partisan differences keep a bill from forming or passing, it’s likely they’ll restart in some capacity after the inauguration in January.

To help visualize when a bill could pass, we’ve come up with five possible dates, both before and after the November election. If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here’s how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

When could a stimulus bill or package pass?

House votes Senate votes President signs
Nov. 23 Nov. 24 Nov. 25
Dec. 11 Dec. 12 Dec. 13
Feb. 1, 2021 (after inauguration) Feb. 2, 2021 Feb. 3, 2021
Feb. 16 (Feb. 15 is President’s Day) Feb. 16 Feb. 17

Why last month’s $2.2 trillion stimulus package still matters

On Oct. 1, the House of Representatives passed a revised Heroes Act that included a second stimulus check and additional benefits such as enhanced unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans. The new House bill, endorsed primarily by Democrats, was not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate, and indeed has not.

However, it provides the framework Pelosi is working from, and could figure into future negotiations, depending on election results that could potentially shift the balance one way or another.

The vote was thought to provide cover for House Democrats as they campaign without a new relief bill, much as the Senate did earlier in September for Republican members with its $650 billion skinny bill

What Republicans and Democrats both agree on

Proposals from both sides have included another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements, among topics like aid for airlines, enhanced unemployment insurance and extending the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses. 

Although the Senate’s targeted bills, which did not advance, did not include stimulus checks, Republicans (including those in the Senate) have supported them. 

Here are more details on the biggest points of contention between the White House Republicans and the Democrats.

For more information about stimulus checks, here’s how soon you might get your second stimulus check now and what to know about the HEALS, CARES and Heroes stimulus bill proposals that could help inform a final package.

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