CORONAVIRUS

Second stimulus check: possible dates to approve a new relief bill before the election

Time is running out and Republicans and Democrats remain divided on several issues but Nancy Pelosi said lawmakers will remain on call until a deal is struck.

Second stimulus check: possible dates to approve a new relief bill before the election
NICHOLAS KAMM AFP

The US Senate and the House of Representatives are due to convene on Monday afternoon but as far as President Donald Trump is concerned, this week's priority will be to nominate a replacement for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who passed away on Friday. That is, if the move isn't opposed by Democrats who have threatened to refuse a floor vote just 50 days before the election. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Friday that the Senate "should not fill the vacancy left by Ginsburg's death until we have a new president."

That means more delays to the approval of a fifth stimulus package with Republicans and Democrats still  divided on key issues such as unemployment benefits, funding for schools and states during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in the US, the financial rescue of the embattled US Postal Service and increased funding for hospitals and testing in the fight against Covid-19.

Elections, government funding add to relief package pressure

Add in the looming presidential elections on 3 November and the requirement of Congress to pass legislation to fund the government beyond 30 September and it is little wonder lawmakers are eyeing each other suspiciously across the floors of both houses. President Donald Trump's administration has accused the Democrats of holding up the relief package with a view to seeking political gain ahead of the contest between Trump and Joe Biden while the Democrats have said the Republicans refuse to meet them halfway and place the delay firmly at the door of the Oval Office.  

While both parties have differing views on almost all aspects of the various proposals on the table - not least in the area of liability protection - there is consensus on the need for a second round of stimulus check payments worth up to $1,200 per individual as provided for under the CARES Act in March. However, without agreement on a bill or the direct intervention of Trump, who has suggested using Covid-19 relief funds to issue a second round of payments, tens of millions of Americans are in limbo as the music continues to play on Capitol Hill with too few chairs to accommodate the interest of all participants. 

Pelosi: "We're staying here until we have an agreement"

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said recently that once Congress gives the green light for the second round of stimulus payments, the IRS will be ready to start sending checks within a week of approval. That means that the relief bill would have to be passed by the third week of October in order for a new round of stimulus checks to commence before the elections. 

As it stands, that scenario seems remote with neither the return of the Senate or the House managing to break the deadlock in negotiations despite various attempts at compromise from both parties. 

US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week that Democrats were open to the idea of postponing the start of the October recess to get a deal with Republicans on a new coronavirus aid bill, as a $1.5 trillion proposal unveiled by moderates was attacked by conservatives and liberals. The current session is due to end on 9 October when lawmakers will return to their home states to campaign in the run-up to the election on 3 November. That gives the House just 19 days to push a new relief bill through. If both chambers agree to delay their planned recess, a vote could go through the Senate on 30 September, be passed by the House the following day and signed off by the president on 2 October - although that is the earliest possible scenario. 

If no vote happens this month, other potential dates (based on Congressional voting schedules) include 9/12 October, 16/19 October and 23/26 October. 

"We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement," Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a CNBC interview, adding that there were disagreements with Republicans on how to "crush the virus" that has now claimed the lives of almost 200,000 people in the United States.

Echoing Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said lawmakers will be on indefinite standby, with 24 hours’ notice of any vote on a coronavirus aid bill if a deal is reached. 

Relief package proposal deemed "too expensive" 

The difficulties in reaching such a deal were on full display as lawmakers from varying points along the political spectrum attacked the compromise floated by the House "Problem Solvers Caucus."

Some conservatives, including some of the Senate's 53 Republicans labelled it as too expensive at $1.5 trillion with this year's fiscal deficit forecast to hit $3.3 trillion, (equivalent to 16% of GDP). And liberals complained it fell far short of what was needed to boost an economy plagued by the pandemic, and to save lives as the country nears the grim milestone of 200,000 Covid-19 deaths - a figure which is expected to be reached and surpassed in the coming days.