Election season, COVID-19, bitter spats whip up perfect storm for stimulus negotiations


Congress and the White House have officially moved the goalposts on the next coronavirus relief bill.

Angela Lang/CNET

Negotiations over America’s next stimulus package won’t resume until after the votes are counted and the races are called, that much is certain. But rising coronavirus cases, the election outcome and a battle of wills among three top US leaders are forming a triple threat of complications that could either speed or delay the passage of a bill by weeks.

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 the new term for Congress 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

“The motivation level on both sides will depend on how the election comes out, but I think either way we’ll do something,” Senate Republican Whip John Thune told The Hill Oct. 30. “The question is how much.”

Even if a new bipartisan stimulus bill does come together through Mnuchin and Pelosi’s extended back-and-forth, there’s no telling if the Senate would vote on it before Jan. 3.

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


“We probably need to do another package,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday. “I think that’ll be something we’ll need to do right at the beginning of the year.” McConnell added his preference for a much narrower bill than the one currently under negotiation, and “certainly more modest than the $3 trillion-dollar Nancy Pelosi package,” he said, seeming to reference the House of Representatives’ Heroes Act from May 15. On Oct. 1, the House passed a revised version of the bill for $2.2 trillion.

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.

Read moreYou don’t have to be a US citizen living in America to get a stimulus check

“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 Senate majority leader, McConnell has the power to set the agenda for when his chamber votes on legislation. Though he’s previously committed to bringing a deal to the Senate for a vote, Friday’s statement hints that McConnell could delay a vote. A bill must pass both the Senate and House before the sitting president can sign it into law.

“We don’t want to have to wait that long,” Pelosi said Friday. “People have needs.”

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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