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Second stimulus check: why hasn't a relief package been agreed?

Americans' wait for a second stimulus check continues, amid an impasse in talks over the next coronavirus relief package in the United States.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks about stalled congressional talks with the Trump administration on the latest coronavirus relief during her weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

After two weeks of negotiations, White House leaders and Democratic congressional chiefs could not agree on a coronavirus relief bill by their self-imposed deadline of last Friday, leaving attempts to push through the legislation - and, with it, confirm the distribution of a second stimulus check - set to drag on into September.

Senate joins House in going on recess amid relief bill impasse

On Thursday, the Senate joined the House in going on recess for the next month, having initially stayed in session longer than scheduled in case talks could be revived between Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows on one side, and Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on the other.

If there were further movement on a stimulus package and votes were scheduled to try and get a bill through, Congress could be recalled, with lawmakers given 24 hours’ notice to return to Washington. But that seems unlikely to happen.

Although Mnuchin said on Monday that he was hopeful there could be an agreement this week, the only discussions that have taken place were a call between him and Pelosi, which led to nothing more than opposed statements. “We are miles apart in our values," Pelosi said on Thursday, per Politico. "Perhaps you mistook them for somebody who gave a damn. That isn't the case. This is very far apart."

On Tuesday, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) told reporters that if Thursday came and went without negotiations restarting, nothing would get done until September. “If it doesn’t happen in the next 48 hours, I think this is all you’re going to see until Congress gets back into session after Labor Day," Grassley said, per The Hill.

Second stimulus check not behind failed talks

All of which leaves Americans facing an ongoing wait for a second check many badly need - after all, in an April poll carried out by SimplyWise when the first round of payments began to go out as part of the CARES Act, 63% of those who responded said their check would help to tide them over for no more than three months.

The stimulus check isn’t behind the impasse, though. Republicans and Democrats agree that another payment should be sent out to qualifying Americans, and their respective proposals for the measure - in GOP senators’ $1tn HEALS Act and the Dems’ $3 HEROES Act - both seek to distribute up to $1,200 to earners below $99,000 a year.

Why have stimulus package negotiations stalled?

The issues that have led talks to founder include enhanced unemployment insurance - Democrats wanted to extend a $600 weekly benefits boost until the end of 2020, while Republicans proposed significantly lowering this figure - and how much to spend on financial aid to state and local governments. Pelosi and Schumer sought $915bn, an amount Mnuchin and Meadows were unwilling to countenance.

Speaking to Fox on Thursday, Trump said the US Postal Service and mail-in voting were also at the heart of the stalled talks. He revealed that his negotiators have resisted Democrats' calls for additional money to help election officials prepare for November's presidential contest, amid a pandemic that has killed nearly 170,000 Americans and presents severe logistical challenges to organizing such large events.

"The items are the post office and the $3.5 billion for mail-in voting," Trump said, adding that Democrats want to give the post office $25 billion. "If we don't make the deal, that means they can't have the money, that means they can't have universal mail-in voting. It just can't happen."

The negotiators' disagreement on individual issues has, in turn, led to an inability to find common ground on the overall budget of the bill, with Republicans balking at even a significantly reduced Democrat proposal. “I offered to them: we’ll take down a trillion [from the $3tn cost of the HEROES Act] if you add a trillion,” Pelosi said at the weekend. “They said absolutely not. If we could do that - if we take down a trillion and they add a trillion, we’ll be with in range."

Trump issues executive orders amid impasse

In the wake of the failure of the talks, Trump on Saturday issued series of executive orders seeking to extend enhanced unemployment benefits, suspend student loan payments and interest, defer payroll taxes and extend a moratorium on evictions. His executive action did not include stimulus checks, which will have to wait until legislation is agreed upon by Congress and signed into law by the president.

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