Second stimulus check: can the $900 billion relief bill be approved before January?
Talks appearing to be progressing well in the Capitol but lawmakers face a race against time to have a new financial package agreed before they break for Christmas.
Congress has been locked in discussions for weeks as they attempt to thrash out the details of a coronavirus relief bill before the end of the year. The Democrat-led House of Representatives and the Republican-held Senate had been unable agree on key components of the package like a second round of stimulus checks and unemployment benefits.
A $908 billion bipartisan bill was tabled weeks ago and was countered by a $916 billion proposal from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on behalf of the White House. While the former included a much-needed extension to unemployment benefits, the latter pledged another round of stimulus checks. Neither provided both.
But it appears there may have been a breakthrough this week as a new deal, believed to provide around $900 billion of federal funding, was tabled with provision for both stimulus checks and unemployment benefits included. This bill is the latest iteration of the $908 billion bipartisan proposal and has already received support from both sides of the aisle.
Why is it so important to agree a new stimulus package before Christmas?
At last there appears to be movement on the second relief bill and it comes at the very end of the final Congressional sitting of 2020. Both Houses were scheduled to break for the year on 18 December but lawmakers have agreed to stay to get the all-important deal done.
"We're not leaving here without a covid package,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday. ”It's not gonna happen. We're gonna stay here until we get a covid package. No matter how long it takes, we'll be here.”
It has been nearly nine months since the CARES Act provided the first round of stimulus checks and Americans are in desperate need of further support. The economic recovery has been hampered by a sharp rise in case and death numbers and, despite positivity around the vaccine, experts are predicting a bleak winter for many.
Stimulus checks will offer vital support at a very trying time, but agreeing further funding for unemployment benefits will be just as important. The CARES Act extended unemployment insurance to help Americans deal with the economic fallout of the pandemic but that funding officially expires on 26 December. If a new package is not agreed before Congress breaks for Christmas an estimated 12 million people will lose their benefits.
How long will it take for the bill to be approved, voted on and signed into law?
McConnell has proved to be an obstacle to stimulus negotiations in the past so with him on board it should be much easier to find an agreement. However there is still a process to be followed that requires three separate approvals before the bill becomes law. At this stage it seems like a general agreement is not far away but it would still have to pass Congress before going to the White House.
The House of Representatives will vote on the bill first, before it is sent to the Senate for a referral vote if it is successful. A full chamber vote will be required and given the likelihood of some additional debate on the floor the two votes would have to take place on different days.
There may be some attempt in the Senate for elements of the bill to be altered but given the extensive discussions already and the time constraints it is unlikely that any major would be proposed at this late stage. Finally it will go to the White House, where President Donald Trump can then sign it into law.
Trump has not spoken publically about the latest developments but reports suggest that he is not happy with how talks are progressing. Reports claim that White House aides intervened on Thursday to prevent Trump wading into negotiations to demand larger stimulus checks. Aides convinced him that doing so could compromise negotiations but there remains the possibility that the President will refuse to sign the bill that is sent to him in the coming days.