CORONAVIRUS STIMULUS CHECKS

Is there a third stimulus check coming in February?

Republican lawmakers have opposed President Biden's $1.9trn package but Senator Sanders is willing to use a Senate mechanism to pass the covid-19 relief bill without their support.

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Is there a third stimulus check coming in February?
GRAEME JENNINGS / POOL EFE

As the Democrats prepare to table President Joe Biden’s long-awaited covid-19 economic relief bill, millions of Americans are hoping that a third round of stimulus check payments could be on the horizon.

Another wave of direct payments would be the third since the pandemic first took hold nearly a year ago. The CARES Act, signed into law in March 2020, provided a round of $1,200 payments and December’s emergency relief bill included a further $600 stimulus check. Biden, feeling that the $600 was insufficient is offering a round of $1,400 payments to ‘top up’ the amount to $2,000.

Republicans oppose Biden’s stimulus bill

The American Rescue Plan was to be one of the flagship economic policies of the early months of Biden’s presidency but it has faced opposition from Senators across the aisle. In recent weeks a growing number of Republican lawmakers have questioned whether the $1.9 trillion package is necessary.

The Democrats are expected to finally table Biden’s proposal early next week, possibly on Monday, as they look to kick-start the process. However on Sunday a group of 10 Republican Senators have made a counter-offer, pitching a package worth just $600 billion.

This threatened to delay the third round of stimulus checks even longer but it seems that it has simply strengthened Biden’s resolve to pass the bill that he proposed. Biden’s national economic council director Brian Deese told NBC News that the President is “open to ideas” but would not be stalled.

“What he’s uncompromising about is the need to move with speed on a comprehensive approach here,” Deese said.

Democrats willing to use reconciliation to pass Biden’s covid-19 relief bill

The timing of the Republican’s counter-offer, on the eve of Biden’s bill being officially tabled in Congress, suggests that there will not be bipartisan agreement over the bill. Senate rules usually require a 60-vote supermajority for a bill to be passed, meaning that at least 10 GOP senators would have to side with the Democrats.

With that looking unlikely, Democrats are readying themselves to invoke a Senate mechanism known as reconciliation to pass the package without Republican support. On matters of budget and economic policy, reconciliation allows legislation to be passed with a simple majority, meaning the Democrats could do so with Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaker vote.

Speaking to ABC News on Sunday, Senator Bernie Sanders suggested that he would be willing to use reconciliation to ensure that financial support is offered throughout the “unprecedented crisis that we face right now.”

"Look, all of us will have differences of opinion. This is a $1.9 trillion bill. I have differences and concerns about this bill," Sanders continued.

"But, at the end of the day, we're going to support the president of the United States, and we're going to come forward, and we're going to do what the American people overwhelmingly want us to do."

It seems like a third round of stimulus checks is on the way but it will not be a quick procedure to get the package passed through both Houses. With the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet picks and the impending impeachment trial of former President Trump also scheduled for February, the Senate timetable is particularly busy at the moment.

Once agreed there is also the matter of distribution, although that improved dramatically for the second round of payments which were issued in January. With that in mind, it is unlikely that the third round of stimulus checks will appear in Americans' bank accounts before the second half of February.