Stimulus negotiations on a collision course? ‘We have to get this done’

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A smaller stimulus bill has a chance of making it through before the end of 2020.


James Martin/CNET

Negotiations over the latest coronavirus relief package have careened this way and that in an effort to broker a deal before the end of 2020. As another week draws to an end, is the country any closer to a fresh flow of federal aid that’s eluded it since May? 

“We have to get this done,” President-elect Joe Biden said Friday before announcing additional selections for his administrative cabinet. “Millions and millions of Americans simply can’t wait any longer.”

Since last week, a flurry of proposals and counterproposals has muddied the already murky waters with new and different approaches to a COVID-19 rescue bill that may or may not deliver a second stimulus payment.

They include:

Although Congress is hoping to wrap up its business next week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said if lawmakers don’t pass more aid by next Friday, Dec. 18, Congress could keep working through the end of the month. 


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“People want to get home for the holidays,” Pelosi said Thrusday during her weekly press conference, “But what’s more important, we get the job done for the American people before the holidays.”

Earlier this week, the $908 billion bipartisan proposal was viewed by Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others in Congress as the last, best chance to re-fund sorely needed economic aid like extra unemployment benefits and small-business wages before protections expire at the end of the year

“This relief package won’t be the total answer even if it gets passed, but it’s an important first step. There’s so much we have to do,” Biden said Friday.

But the stimulus check question is a new hurdle, but not the only one by far.

On the Republican side, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell proposed several times this week that the bill should drop the two thorniest issues — funding for state and local programs and a liability shield to protect businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits — to pass a bill focusing on the areas of agreement. McConnell’s opponents view the trade-off as as dealbreaker, citing that state funding is necessary to help pay firefighters and employ sanitation workers. 

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More stimulus money for the country and its citizens hangs in the balance.


Sarah Tew/CNET

“Everyone feels a sense of urgency. There is not a person on [Capitol] Hill, I think, who doesn’t feel the urgency,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a Democrat representing New Jersey who has been involved in the bipartisan group’s work, told The Washington Post Monday. “I think everybody recognizes the clock is ticking and it’s getting louder. I think that’s forcing resolution, and the good news is we’ve made a lot of progress.”

The cost of not passing more aid before Dec. 31 would be steep. Tens of millions of Americans will be left without any federal support for weeks, while hunger and evictions mount and COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths soar.

If Congress decides to wait till 2021 to act, it could fall to Biden to push for more aid after he takes office Jan. 20.

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

Read moreWhat Biden could do for stimulus if another bill doesn’t pass

When could Congress pass a new stimulus bill?

Here are some possible scenarios that could play out over the coming weeks and months, depending on which way the wind blows in Washington.

When could a stimulus bill or package pass?

House votes Senate votes President signs
Dec 16 Dec 17 Dec 18
Feb 1, 2021 (after inauguration) Feb 2 Feb 3
Feb 16 (Feb 15 is President’s Day) Feb 16 Feb 16
March 15 March 16 March 17

What are the stimulus bill options?


If a stimulus bill is completed this year or before Jan. 20
: With an agreement made, the current House and Senate would vote before the new Congress is seated in early January. If Trump then signed the rescue bill into law, aid would likely begin to go out within weeks, with certain groups possibly receiving financial help before the end of 2020.

If negotiators agree on a stimulus deal, but it fails in either the House or Senate: 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.

A smaller bill could pass now, and a larger one could happen later: It’s possible that a subset of programs would get funded before Biden becomes president, for example, unemployment aid, an extension of the eviction ban or even a second check, with the new Congress revisiting other programs after the inauguration. As sitting president, Trump would need to sign any bill passed before Jan. 20 into law for it to take effect.

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Stimulus negotiations are under incredible stress.


Sarah Tew/CNET

If talks once again fall apart until after Jan. 20: If partisan differences keep a bill from passing, it’s possible they’ll restart in some capacity after the inauguration in January. Here are some executive actions Biden could take immediately once president if a stimulus bill hasn’t passed by the time he’s sworn in.

If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here’s how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

Why the Democrats’ stimulus proposal from this summer 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 House bill, endorsed primarily by Democrats, was not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate, and indeed did not.

Although it is not law, this bill provides the talking points Pelosi was working with prior to the bipartisan proposal and might return to next year, if another stimulus proposal picks up steam after Biden’s inauguration in 2021. This revised Heroes Act has Biden’s support and could figure into future negotiations, depending on whether Georgia’s state runoff on Jan. 5 gives Democrats control of the Senate (Republicans currently maintain a two-seat lead).

So what do Republicans and Democrats agree on?

Proposals from both sides have included the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, enhanced unemployment insurance, and another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements. Although not every benefit would make it into a smaller bill, if that were to pass first, these other relief measures are most likely to gain bipartisan support. The two sides also agree on more financial assistance for coronavirus testing and vaccine deployment.

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