A perfect storm for stimulus negotiations? 3 things that could hurry or halt a new bill

November 3, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


Are stimulus negotiations broken? Here’s what’s happening now.


The outcome of Tuesday’s electionrising coronavirus cases and bitter spats in the highest reaches of government are whipping up a perfect storm that could either speed up passage of a stimulus bill or send it careening into 2021. Economists forecast that surging cases of COVID-19 combined with a lapse in the few remaining stimulus benefits left, like expanded unemployment benefits, will hobble local economies and put “millions of Americans” at risk of having essential utilities shut off, like power and water (read more about the K-shaped recovery). 

Without more federal stimulus aid, state budgets could fall short by as much as $434 billion through 2022, according to an October report from Moody’s Analytics.

Complicating the issue is an acrimonious turn in stimulus negotiation days ahead of the election, which saw top negotiators House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sling blame at each other over holding up a deal. The unfinished legislation — which includes a second stimulus check and funding for a wide range of programs — now hangs in the balance.

The results of the congressional and presidential races are expected to have an enormous impact on the content of the bill, which both sides say they want one way or another. But if the political majority for the new term shifts, it isn’t clear if formal stimulus talks will continue in the period before the swearing in of Congress for the new term on Jan. 3, or the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.

This so-called lame-duck period is a notorious dead zone when it comes to passing new legislation, with the exception of emergency measures like avoiding a US government shutdown on Dec. 11

Democrats have already shown their hand. If they win a majority in the Senate — it’s expected to be a slim margin if they do — Pelosi said they’d use a special kind of maneuver called a reconciliation bill, which could squeak funding through with a simple majority, even in the face of Republican foes. 

“We most certainly will be passing a reconciliation bill, not only for the Affordable Care Act, but for what we may want to do further on the pandemic, and some other issues that relate to the well-being of the American people,” Pelosi said Monday, The Hill reported.

That could only happen after Jan. 3, when a new Congress is sworn in. That’s assuming a new bipartisan stimulus bill does come together through Mnuchin and Pelosi’s extended back-and-forth, or through some other means. For example, it’s possible that a Democratic-majority House could pass a bill that then squeaks through the Senate on the way to the sitting president to sign.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


Chances may be slim to pass a bipartisan bill before then, if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decided not to pick it up, as he suggested on Oct. 30. “We probably need to do another package,” McConnell said. “I think that’ll be something we’ll need to do right at the beginning of the year.” As Senate majority leader, McConnell has the power to set the agenda for when his chamber votes on legislation.

McConnell’s protracted timeline and smaller proposal represent the Senate leader’s latest break with President Donald Trump, who has loudly supported a sweeping bill that also includes a second stimulus check and renewed unemployment benefits, among other funding.

“We will have a tremendous stimulus package immediately after the election,” Trump said Oct. 30 to reporters. Earlier in the week, Trump seemingly based his commitment to a relief package on the condition of him winning and the House of Representatives and Senate having Republican majorities. 

As if to underscore the delay in passing more aid, Colorado will give a one-time $375 stimulus check to nearly everyone who claimed unemployment from March to October. 

Former Vice President and presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is currently ahead in the polls according to polling website FiveThirtyEightalso has a stimulus plan. (Note: Polls are one indicator, but they’re not always an accurate reflection of future results.)

What happens now? And how could it affect Americans and the economy? Here’s what we know today. We update this story with new information when it’s available.


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

Sarah Tew/CNET

What could happen between election and inauguration

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

A White House offer is completed after Nov. 3: 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 White House offer is finalized and fails in the Senate: In this situation, the House could vote on a deal after the election, but the current Senate, which is Republican-led, could vote it down, so the bill would not become law. In this case, Congress might try again after the next members of the House of Representatives and Senate convene on Jan. 3.

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.

Talks stop until after the election results are in: If talks grind to a halt after the election, it’s likely they’ll restart in some capacity after the inauguration in January. It’s been speculated that if Trump loses the election and if the Republican party loses its Senate majority, there will be little incentive for Congress to pass a sweeping package until 2021 during the transition.

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. 9 (Senate back from recess) Nov. 10 (If House returns early from recess) Nov. 12 (Nov. 11 is Veteran’s Day)
Nov. 16 (House back in session) Nov. 17 Nov. 18
Nov. 23 Nov. 24 Nov. 25
Dec. 11 Dec. 12 Dec. 13
Feb. 1, 2021 Feb. 2, 2021 Feb. 3, 2021

Why the House’s Oct. 1 stimulus bill 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 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 do Democrats and Republicans actually 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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