En español | With federal lawmakers back in session for the final stretch before Election Day, the next couple of weeks will be pivotal in determining if a new round of economic relief is passed and whether a second round of stimulus checks will be part of it. But breaking the stalemate that has thwarted new legislation so far won't be easy.
"It doesn't feel like we're going to get a deal before the end of September,” says Tamara Fucile, senior adviser for government affairs at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C. “And after that, it just feels like it only becomes increasingly more difficult."
When the coronavirus pandemic first hit the U.S. in March, lawmakers acted quickly to pass the CARES Act, which delivered several kinds of relief for people struggling financially because of temporary shutdowns of businesses. That aid included one-time economic impact payments — known as stimulus checks — of up to $1,200 per eligible adult. Those payments — whether they arrived as direct deposits to bank accounts, paper checks or debit cards — were a hit with recipients and lawmakers, many of whom said a second round of checks could be on the way.
Producing the deal that would make those checks possible, however, has been difficult. In late May, the House of Representatives passed the $3.3 trillion HEROES Act, which included a second round of payments and even increased the amount eligible dependents could receive. (The HEROES Act proposed $1,200 per dependent, while the CARES Act paid $500 per eligible dependent child.) The Senate never voted on that House bill, and the Senate's two proposals for new economic relief legislation — the $1 trillion HEALS Act (which included a stimulus check) and a slimmed-down $500 billion package (which did not) — failed to pass.
Looming election a potential obstacle to negotiations
This week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi vowed that the House would remain in session until the election in order to reach agreement on a new round of stimulus legislation. “We are committed to staying here until we have an agreement that meets the needs of the American people,” she said during an interview on CNBC. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also expressed willingness to continue negotiations on a new bipartisan relief package. “I think there's many areas of this where [there] is an agreement between the Democrats and the Republicans, and some of the areas we do have differences on the amounts,” he said Monday. “I've told the speaker I'm available any time to negotiate."
A bipartisan group of 50 members of Congress dubbed the Problem Solvers Caucus on Tuesday introduced a proposal for a $1.5 trillion stimulus package. That legislation would provide a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks, among other measures. But the proposal appears unlikely to advance.
"I don't think that Congress is going to vote on that anytime soon,” Fucile says. “But it's possible that that effort could help break the logjam, to get negotiators back to the table."
The impending elections could further complicate the ability of lawmakers to produce a relief package over the next few weeks or even by the end of the calendar year. Some lawmakers who are up for reelection may be less willing to compromise out of concerns about what their base of supporters may think.
"The closer you get to the elections, I think the harder it is to get a deal,” Fucile says. “Then after the election, depending on the outcome, it could be very difficult to get a deal before the next administrative term starts."