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Stimulus package negotiations today: 'We need to get money to the American public now'

Updated: Oct 16, 2020

By Shelby Brown, Clifford Colby, Erin Carson, Alison DeNisco Rayome - President Donald Trump says he's ready to sign a stimulus bill -- which would include a second stimulus check --if lawmakers can get one on his desk, according to a tweet Thursday. With the election about 19 days away, there's a renewed sense of urgency to get a deal done. At least when it comes to White House and Democratic negotiators. 

"We need to get money to the American public now, the people that are most hurting," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC Thursday. "We're not going to let the testing issue stand in the way," he added, referring to one sticking point in previous talks, funding for coronavirus testing and contact tracing.

Mnuchin's comments come as new unemployment claims jumped unexpectedly this week, the Department of Labor announced Thursday, for a total of 886,000 new jobless claims -- up 77,000 from the week prior. And 14 million people who were helped by the CARES Act's $600 per week unemployment benefit fell back into poverty after benefits expired, a new study from the Columbia University Center on Poverty and Social Policy (PDF), published Thursday, found.

"Go big or go home," Trump has said repeatedly this week, referring to stimulus aid, adding most recently on Fox Business Network Thursday that he would "absolutely" go higher than the White House's current $1.8 billion stimulus offer, the terms of which are being hammered out now for a vote in Congress. 

The question is if the Senate Republicans would "go along with it" as the White House has claimed. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is preparing a $500 billion standalone bill to vote on Oct. 19, which would not include stimulus checks. "I'm proposing what we think is appropriate," McConnell said Thursday, The Washington Post reported.

What does all this mean and what could happen next? Read on for more details on the bumpy path of stimulus talks. We update this story often.

How likely is it that Congress could pass a standalone bill?

It's hard to say what will happen, and if increasing pressure in the run-up to the election will cause any side's stance to soften. There are currently two ideas in play for a standalone bill.

The first comes from the White House, urging Congress to repurpose $130 billion in unused money from the payroll protection program that was part of the CARES Act. The money would fund new financial assistance for small businesses or the airline industry. (That isn't enough to fund stimulus checks.)

The second is McConnell's Senate proposal to fund more payroll assistance. "When the full Senate returns on October 19th, our first order of business will be voting again on targeted relief for American workers, including new funding for the PPP," McConnell said Tuesday.

Pelosi has consistently rejected a standalone bill that is not tied to a larger aid package. In other words, she has said she would support a tailored bill if there are also assurances that a larger deal is also being worked on.

Why does Trump's position keep shifting?

Trump has been increasingly vocal in his support of a large stimulus bill, at one point saying he wanted to corral more stimulus money than Republicans and Democrats

But while being treated for COVID-19 with a powerful steroid known to have side effects, he instructed his team on Oct. 6 to stop negotiating on a new deal, directing Congress instead to pass a standalone bill for another round of $1,200 checks and renew payroll assistance for the airlines and other industries. 

By Oct. 9, he was encouraging negotiators to "go big" on a new stimulus bill and on Oct. 12 he urged fellow Republicans to "pull back" on the due process for Barrett's confirmation hearings "and go for STIMULUS for the people!!!"

According to Trump on Oct. 6, his belief that a deal on a stimulus package wouldn't be reached in the short time left and desire to quickly confirm Supreme Court associate justice nominee Amy Coney Barrett led to the decision. Barrett's confirmation hearing began Oct. 12. On Thursday, he tweeted yet again that he was ready to sign a bill. 

Which dates could a new relief bill pass, either before or after the election? 

With just a few weeks before the Nov. 3 election, Congress is running out of time to pass additional aid.

If talks fizzle before Nov. 3, Pelosi has said that Congress could pick up the thread on another economic rescue package following the election. But with talks currently ongoing, we've suggested five possible dates, both before and after the November election. These are speculative only. If a bill does pass, here's how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

Didn't the House just vote on a new stimulus bill?

On Oct. 1, the House of Representatives passed a revised Heroes Act that includes a second stimulus check and additional benefits such as enhanced unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans. The new House bill, endorsed primarily by Democrats, has little chance of advancing through the Republican-controlled Senate, though.

According to Pelosi, the vote on the revised Heroes bill was independent of ongoing negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. If Pelosi and Mnuchin do agree on a new proposal, a new bill would need to be separately drafted and voted on in both the House and Senate before being signed into law. The total cost of the package and funding allocations like a child tax credit have remained chief sticking points.

Why did the House pass the revised Heroes 2.0 if talks are ongoing?

The vote is thought to provide cover for House Democrats as they campaign without a new relief bill, much as the Senate did earlier in September for Republican members with its $650 billion skinny bill. Like the skinny Senate bill, this new House proposal has little chance of advancing in the other chamber.

Which areas do Republicans and Democrats agree on?

Proposals from both sides include another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements, among topics like aid for airlines, enhanced unemployment insurance and extending the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses. Mnuchin has also said they've found agreement on areas like testing, contact tracing, vaccines and distribution. 

So what happens now?

The situation is still in flux. For now, we wait to see if there are any developments. Anything could still happen. 

For more information, here's how soon you might get your second stimulus check and what to know about the HEALS, CARES and Heroes stimulus bill proposals that could help inform a final package.

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