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


Sarah Tew/CNET

With 20 straight days of over 100,000 daily new coronavirus cases and up to 12 million unemployed workers losing their enhanced unemployment benefits before the end of the year, there’s growing concern in Washington that America can’t wait until after President-elect Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration for another stimulus bill to arrive. Some predict that a smaller stimulus bill has a better chance of passing by the end of the year, the longer talks are delayed.

“We’re in a real crisis in many households in this country right now,” Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. “Unemployment insurance runs out for many people at the end of the year, before Joe Biden takes office. The eviction moratorium runs out at the end of the year before Joe Biden takes office. So, if that and other problems are going to be fixed, they have to be fixed right now under the Trump presidency with the congressional lineup we have right now,” Klain said.

Both the House and Senate are in recess until after Thanksgiving, and when they return they’ll need to hammer out the details of the 2021 federal budget, prior to the Dec. 11 spending deadline, if the government is to avoid a shutdown.

For now, however, negotiations for another economic relief bill — which could include a second stimulus check — are running on a separate track from budget negotiations. The two conversations are so far independent, which means that stimulus aid may not be tied to the government funding bill. Republican and Democratic leaders, however, continue to urgently call for more financial aid. 

Read more: Want your second stimulus check faster? Do this now

“American workers should not lose their jobs needlessly when a second round of the job-saving Paycheck Protection Program for the hardest-hit small businesses would make a huge difference,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Nov. 20. “Our medical system should not be denied additional support, including for distributing the life-saving vaccines that appear to be on the horizon.”

McConnell’s statement came a few days after similar urging from Biden, when the President-elect called on Congress to come together and pass the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act that the House passed in May, which includes a second stimulus check of as much as $1,200 per person for eligible Americans and additional resources such as enhanced unemployment benefits.

“We’re going into a very dark winter,” Biden said. “Things are going to get much tougher before they get easier.” Biden also has his own stimulus plan with a second stimulus check, but he can’t act on it until after he’s inaugurated on Jan. 20.

Behind the scenes, however, Biden’s transition team is reportedly pushing for Democratic leaders in Congress to strike a deal now with Republicans on more aid, the New York Times reported, even if that means a smaller package than the $2 trillion proposal Democrats have been promoting since May with its Heroes Act. Republicans, led by McConnell, have put their support behind a smaller $500 million bill that would renew some benefits authorized under the CARES Act and provide funding for state and local governments but at a lower level than Democrats propose.


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Once lawmakers return to work after Thanksgiving, they will have a handful of weeks in the lame-duck session between now and  Jan. 3 when the new Congress is sworn in to pass more economic relief.

Part of the debate is over how much each side believes the US economy needs more economic relief. Conservative economists and politicians, including McConnell, see the latest signs of economic recovery as a signal that a smaller package can take the country over the hump until the COVID-19 vaccine is ready for mass distribution

Others disagree, pointing out that the vaccine won’t be ready for most people until the middle of 2021, during which time thousands more could die every day and the economy could dip again into recession.

“The pandemic is raging, and it’s starting to do damage again,” Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, told The New York Times, predicting that the economy will contract in the first half of 2021 without more stimulus.

Here’s what we know about where negotiations stand right now, and what could happen before the end of the year.

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Time is running out to get a stimulus bill passed before the end of 2020.


Sarah Tew/CNET

How soon could a stimulus package pass now?

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

When could a stimulus bill or package pass?

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


A stimulus bill is completed before Jan. 20:
 An agreement is made, and the current House and Senate vote before the new Congress is seated in January. If Trump signs the rescue bill 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.

Negotiators agree on a stimulus deal but it fails in either the Senate or House: In this situation, 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 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 four possible dates for an agreement. If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here’s how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

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Stimulus negotiations are under incredible stress.


Sarah Tew/CNET

Why the Democrats’ $2.2 trillion stimulus package is still important

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 House bill, endorsed primarily by Democrats, was not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate, and indeed has not.

It provides the framework Pelosi is working from, however, has the support of Biden 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. Following the vote, McConnell and Senate Republicans have shifted their support to a smaller $500 million proposal.

Biden on Nov. 16 called on Congress to pass the revised Heroes Act now.

Do Republicans and Democrats agree on anything?

Proposals from both sides have included another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements (although the Senate’s $500 billion bill does not include a second check, aid for airlines, enhanced unemployment insurance and extending the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses. The two sides also agree on more financial assistance for coronavirus testing and tracing and vaccine deployment.

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, what you should do to speed up the delivery of a potential second check, and what to know about the HEALS, CARES and Heroes stimulus bill proposals that could help inform a final package.

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