US NEWS | CORONAVIRUS

Stimulus check: could there be a second payment in October?

While talks around the next economic bailout continue, Trump is in hospital and doubts continue on whether another payment is likely to be made this month.

Stimulus check: could there be a second payment in October?
ALEXANDER DRAGO REUTERS

Hopes of a breakthrough in the impasse between Democrats and Republicans to push a new coronavirus stimulus package through Congress before the political focus shifts entirely to the November presidential elections are waning, with discussions scheduled to continue this week.

Both sides of the political divide have been unable to come to an agreement over the finer points of a new relief bill, but there is broad consensus on the need to provide a second round of stimulus checks to US citizens hard-hit by the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Donald Trump expressed eagerness to pass a bill as soon as possible from his hospital bed Saturday.

Last week Democrats presented their latest proposal to Republican negotiators - led by Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, a $2.2 trillion bill based on the HEROES Act of last May that narrowly passed the House but was unable to make a dent in Senate resistance to a $3 trillion-plus spend. Republicans have proven increasingly unwilling to countenance anything over the $1 trillion laid out in the HEALS Act, which Democrats have said does not go nearly high enough to meet the needs of the economy and the American public at large. 

Speaking to Face The Nation on Sunday, Pelosi stressed that "we're making progress" but that a decision this week depended on whether the Republicans understood "what we have to do to crush the virus".

Pelosi and Mnuchin attempting to find common ground 

White House negotiators offered to go up to $1.3 trillion and Meadows has previously said that Trump was ready to put pen to paper on that bill. Democrats  are holding out for a more wide-ranging package after flatly rejecting a so-called “skinny” relief package proposed by Republicans.

The new proposal included $436 billion for state and local governments, as well as money for education, testing, €25 billion to protect airline industry jobs and for the small business loan program known as the Paycheck Protection Program, a statement from House Democrats said.

It would also provide a new round of direct payments to Americans of $1,200 per taxpayer and restore federal unemployment benefits of $600 a week through January.

Pelosi has taken the lead for Democrats in trying to reach a compromise with the Trump administration on a further coronavirus relief bill. Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer had been pressing for $3.4 trillion in the HEROES Act, but have now scaled back their demands by over a trillion dollars in the latest proposal

Pelosi: Trump positive test could change White House negotiatiors' outlook

However, Mnuchin's offer failed to convince Pelosi, who on Friday told MSNBC that she believes Trump’s positive Covid-19 test could persuade the White House negotiators to dig deeper. “This kind of changes the dynamic because here they see the reality of what we have been saying all along - this is a vicious virus,” Pelosi said. “[...] We always have to find a path, that is our responsibility to do so, and I believe that we will.”

Speaking on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) also expressed optimism that a bipartisan package can be agreed ahead of the election. “I'm trying to figure out here whether I should predict another bill quickly or not,” he said, per The Hill, “but the talks have speeded up in the last couple of days. I think we're closer to getting an outcome." However, the outlet also quoted Republican Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-Ca) as offering a rather less upbeat take. “I don't think this [Trump’s positive test] changes anything,” Cárdenas said.

A report by Politico on Friday shared Cárdenas’ pessimism, revealing that Mnuchin and Pelosi had held a 65-minute telephone conversation that afternoon, but that “no concrete evidence” had emerged from these relief-bill discussions to suggest that an agreement is near to being struck.

House lawmakers ready to return for relief-bill vote

Lawmakers in the House returned to their districts on Friday to focus on the presidential and congressional elections on 3 November, but have been told by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md) to be ready to be called back to Washington, DC at 24 hours’ notice to vote on a package if one is agreed.

Potential dates for a vote on the bill (based on Congressional voting schedules) include 9/12 October, 16/19 October and 23/26 October.

Stimulus bill crucial political leverage

In an NBC News / Wall Street Journal Poll released Sunday, voters said Joe Biden would do a better job than Trump in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic by 52% to 35%. The survey gave Biden a 14-point lead, 53% to 39%, over Trump in the general election.

Live coverage of the coronavirus crisis

You can follow live, US-focused coverage of the Covid-19 crisis, including the latest developments in the wake of President Trump’s positive test, by reading our dedicated rolling feed.