Coronavirus Stimulus Check

Third stimulus check: why hasn’t it been approved yet?

The American Rescue Plan is currently Biden's and many Democrats’ best case scenario, but to pass through Congress it may need to become a hybrid proposal.

Third stimulus check: why hasn’t it been approved yet?
Jonathan Ernst REUTERS

Approximately 900,000 Americans filed for unemployment insurance last week amid worsening economic desperation for many as the coronavirus pandemic wears on.

Acutely aware of the financial suffering facing many citizens - which is leading to millions of children going hungry and empty shelves at food banks - President Joe Biden has made it a priority to push the passing of his American Rescue Plan (ARP), a $1.9 trillion proposal laying out budgets for a third stimulus check of up to $1,400, extended unemployment benefits, vaccinations and much more.

But admittedly what Biden wants and what Congress is prepares to sign-off are two very different things.

"I don't expect we'll know whether we have an agreement and to what extent the entire package will be able to pass or not pass until we get right down to the very end of this process, which will probably be in a couple weeks," the President said at the White House on Monday.

What’s the hold up on Biden’s stimulus bill?

Goldman Sachs analyst Alec Phillips says efforts to get bipartisan backing for the bill in Congress will require a period of negotiation, as Republicans continue to push back over the proposed $1.9tn overall price tag.

For example, Republican Senator Rick Scott has complained: "We cannot simply throw massive spending at this [crisis] with no accountability to the current and future American taxpayer."

Speaking on the 'Exchanges at Goldman Sachs' podcast on Wednesday, Phillips said a bipartisan package may end up being negotiated down to just over half its original spend. "Bipartisan support obviously has a political appeal and one would imagine that President Biden will, if he can, figure out how he can get Republican support for it, but I think the odds of getting $1.9tn in a covid relief package are probably pretty low," he explained.

"Our expectation is maybe $1.1tn, something like that."

Don’t Democrats have a majority in the House and the Senate?

Janet Yellen, Biden’s brand new Treasury secretary has urged US lawmakers to "act big" on the next coronavirus relief package and, given that the Democrats now have control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, they could also look to go it alone on larger relief legislation.

But there's a big but. Democrats' wafer-thin advantage in the Senate - the chamber is a 50-50 split, with Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris given a tie-breaking vote - does not give them the filibuster-proof 60 votes they normally need to ensure legislation advances beyond the debate stage in the upper house, but in this case they can get round that by using a process called 'budget reconciliation', which only requires a simple majority of 51 for a bill to get through.

However, analyst Alec Phillips posits that following such a strategy could end up actually being a more drawn-out process than negotiating a smaller bill supported by enough senators from both sides of the floor. "There’s a lot of procedural stuff that goes into [budget reconciliation] that could make it take longer […]," he said.

"If they go the bipartisan route and it looks like maybe they can get 60 votes in the Senate for that, then that’s maybe a little bit quicker," he added, noting that there is no guarantee of unanimous support for a larger package from all 50 Democratic senators.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Monday he aims to get a covid-19 bill passed by mid-March.

According to CNET there are two potential scenarios that could play out.

  • The first is that Biden’s American Rescue Plan in its current form, or a similar version or hybrid of such a plan gets passed through Congress.
  • The second is that a smaller “skinny” bill that “targets” coronavirus relief, with provisions for only the third stimulus checks and money for covid-19 vaccine distribution.

It’s believed that lawmakers will be considering these two options this week, ahead of the start of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, scheduled to start on 9 February.

The IRS says that it is capable to send out third stimulus checks to individuals within days of being given the OK.

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