Second stimulus checks: Why you shouldn’t expect a deal before the end of 2020

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – While almost all lawmakers agree there needs to be some sort of stimulus deal to provide relief for Americans as coronavirus cases surge, Republicans and Democrats are on very different pages in terms of what that financial package should look like. With time running out before the end of the year and negotiations going nowhere, there’s no reason to think a deal will be reached before the end of 2020.

That’s despite both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden urging a bipartisan compromise.

Lawmakers only have a few weeks left in Washington during 2020. At the end of this week, Congress will break for Thanksgiving and spend only two more weeks in the nation’s capital until the close of the year. With little time left on the clock, urgency has increased.

Earlier this week, Biden stressed the need for lawmakers finding common ground saying, “Not tomorrow. Now.”

“Refusal of Democrats, Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a conscious decision,” Biden said. “It’s a choice that we make. If we can decide not to cooperate, we could decide to cooperate.”

Biden suggested a relief package be passed during the lame duck session and that it be a large deal like the $3 trillion measure approved by the House earlier this year.

Over the weekend, Trump also pushed for a deal tweeting, “Congress must now do a Covid Relief Bill. Needs Democrats support. Make it big and focused. Get it done!”

What’s unclear about Trump’s request: Does the president still back the idea of stimulus checks?

The tweet tosses out two terms that have largely been contradictory during the negotiation process.

By saying he wants a “big” bill, one might presume that would include a second round of $1,200 direct payments. Prior to the election, the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed that any approved package would include stimulus checks.

However, “targeted” is a term largely used by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to talk about much smaller stimulus bills. In the past, McConnell’s targeted bills have not included direct payments.

Pelosi’s “big” relief bills have run between $2.2 trillion and $2.4 trillion, while McConnell’s “targeted” legislation has been closer to $500 billion. Clearly, a massive difference of some $1.5 trillion.

Ahead of the election, Trump guaranteed stimulus would flow if he won the election. With that not happening, the process has largely stalled. According to multiple reports, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled out of the negotiating mix leaving it up to Pelosi and McConnell to come to terms.

Earlier this week, Pelosi sent a note to McConnell urging negotiations to begin. As of Thursday morning, that had not happened.

In previous comments to reporters, McConnell said any package should be “highly targeted towards things that are directly related to the coronavirus, which we all know is not going away until we get a vaccine.”

Pelosi, who has long said she isn’t interested in a smaller deal, said she’ll only sign off on a deal that aims to “crush” the virus.

“That isn’t anything that we should even be looking at, it wasn’t the right thing to do before,” she said.

At issue is a huge virus relief bill that would send another payment, restart bonus unemployment benefits, fund additional testing and vaccines, provide aid to schools and allocate money to state and local governments, a Democratic priority.

A $1.8 trillion rescue plan in March passed the house virtually unanimously. The larger Pelosi-pushed package has run into resolute opposition from Republicans. Taking care of the issue would clear the decks for a fresh start on the congressional agenda next year.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome H. Powell continued to push for new relief earlier this month saying, “I think we’ll have a stronger recovery if we can just get at least some more fiscal support.”

If no agreement can be reached in the next few months, a deal will fall on Biden’s new administration. Economic recovery is listed as one of his “day one priorities” on the Biden-Harris transition website. There is no direct mention of stimulus checks on the economic recovery plan outlined.

However, the president-elect has said that “we must spend whatever it takes, without delay, to meet public health needs and deal with the mounting economic consequence,” but he did not specify a stimulus payment amount.

Along with expanding free COVID-19 testing, mounting a national emergency effort, and funding state and local governments, part of his plan also calls for emergency paid leave covering 100 percent of weekly salaries or average weekly earnings capped at $1,400 a week.

Eligible recipients include sick workers, workers caring for family or loved ones, those with increased risk of health complications from COVID-19, domestic workers, caregivers, gig economy workers, and independent contractors. Parents dealing with school closings would be eligible for paid leave as well as child care assistance.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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