Second stimulus check update: US coronavirus relief bill
With time running out to get a new stimulus package agreed before Christmas lawmakers are yet to agree on either of the relief bills curently on the table.
Since March lawmakers in the Capitol have failed to agree on another large-scale stimulus package to help Americans survive the economic fallout of the pandemic. After an initial surge of bipartisan sentiment to pass the CARES Act at the outset, the two parties have not been able to find a compromise since.
Both Republicans and Democrats agree that a stimulus bill needs to be passed, but the scope of the package is a very contentious matter with the negotiators still unable to find an agreement after months of talks. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for a more generous package on behalf of the Democrats, while President Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell have proposed considerably smaller financial packages.
What is happening right now with stimulus bill talks?
In May the Democrat-led House passed the $3.2 trillion HEROES Act, which they hoped would be the successor to the CARES Act. However McConnell refused to vote on either that or a stripped down HEROES Act 2.0, which came in at around $2.2 trillion.
The picture will change if the Democrats can flip the Senate in the Georgia runoff races in January but for now McConnell’s involvement in proceedings limits what can be included in the new relief package. Debate in Congress is currently focused on the relative merits of two forms of direct relief; stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
President Trump and President-elect Biden have both publically called for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks to be sent out to Americans as soon as possible, with Trump even proposing to use $300 billion of remaining CARES Act coronavirus relief funds to pay for it.
Earlier this month Biden told reporters: “I think it would be better if they had the $1,200 [payments to families],” when asked about what provisions he wanted to see included in the relief bill.
“The whole purpose of this is, we’ve got to make sure people aren’t thrown out of their apartments, lose their homes, are able to have unemployment insurance [that] they can continue to feed their families on as we grow back the economy,” he added.
Two trillion-dollar proposals on the table
While Americans will have been hoping that the new package will boost unemployment benefits and provide stimulus checks, it appears unlikely that both can be agreed before Congress breaks for Christmas. As it stands the two most likely relief bills each include one of those provisions.
For weeks now a cross-party group of lawmakers has been acquiring support for a bipartisan relief bill that would be worth $908 billion in federal funding. This attempt to get some form of support agreed before Christmas has been dismissed, by Pelosi amongst others, because it does not include another round of stimulus checks. It did however include a $300-a-week extension of federal employment benefits, half the amount provided in the CARES Act.
Alternatively, Mnuchin has tabled a $916 billion package which does include another round of Economic Impact Payments (stimulus checks). This time however Americans would be entitled to just $600 per person and £600 per child; half the amount provided in the CARES Act. Trump is known to be eager to get another round of direct payments agreed before he leaves office and this package was drawn up with the backing of the President.
However this White House proposal includes just $40 billion of additional unemployment support, barely enough to extend the current provision for more than a few weeks. Again, the failure to include sufficient support for jobless Americans mean it has received a lot of push-back from Democrats.
Stimulus checks in return for vaccinations?
One idea, not yet included in any official proposals to Congress, could see stimulus checks combined with another facet of the pandemic response. On Monday 150 hospitals across America received the first batch of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine with around 2.9 million people to be inoculated in this first wave.
However despite widespread optimism about the efficacy and safety of the vaccine, many appear unwilling to get the potentially life-saving shot. The non-partisan think tank Pew Research Center found that only 29% of Americans would definitely be willing to take a coronavirus vaccination if it was offered to them. This is considerably below the 75% required for herd immunity.
With that in mind, former House representative John Delany has proposed a “two birds, one stone” solution, which would see stimulus checks given to those who agree to receive the vaccine.
He told CNN: “What I think we need to do is create an incentive to get that number up to 75% as quickly as possible. That will save lives, that will get our economy back much sooner, and the way to do that is to tie it to a stimulus plan.” It would be a controversial move but a $1,500 check would certainly encourage a few undecided Americans to receive the vaccine.