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Stimulus negotiation make-or-break moment: What Tuesday’s Senate vote, deadline mean for pre-election bill

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Is the stimulus package in trouble? Here’s the latest.


Angela Lang/CNET

Tuesday was meant to mark a momentous, make-it-or-break-it day for the chances that a stimulus bill of any sort will pass before Election Day. But as the day begins to draw to a close, we’re not much closer to concrete answers.

The Senate today moved to vote on a $500 billion stand-alone COVID relief bill for small businesses. That did not pass, which means the bill will not come to a vote. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans will again make a stand on their vision of a smaller, more targeted relief bill by revisiting a $500 billion “skinny” bill that Democrats blocked in September. These bills are largely seen as a last-ditch effort on the part of Senate Republicans to show voters they’re attempting to deliver COVID relief before the Nov. 3 election in 14 days — and that they don’t like how the White House is going about a stimulus package.

That’s not the only reason Tuesday is so significant. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave White House negotiators until the day’s end to finalize language on a stimulus offer that is now estimated to be $2.4 trillion, rather than the $1.8 trillion starting point on Oct. 9. 

By late Tuesday, it was clear that “open questions” remain and that a final version of the bill has not been reached and that talks will continue, but it isn’t evident if the House and Senate could still tee up a vote before Election Day. 

“Today’s deadline enabled the Speaker and Secretary to see that decisions could be reached and language could be exchanged, demonstrating that both sides are serious about finding a compromise,” Pelosi’s chief of staff, Drew Hammill, tweeted. “With this guidance, the two principals will continue their discussions tomorrow afternoon upon the Secretary’s return.”

Pelosi appeared motivated to close in on a deal. “I don’t want to carry over the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency,” she said Monday in a private call with Democrats, The New York Times reported. “We’ve got to get something big, and we’ve got to get it done soon and we’ve got to get it done right.”

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Yet even if a stimulus package is readied for a vote before the election, the opposition from Senate Republicans is a formidable roadblock. McConnell ended the Senate session warning his members not to pass a large stimulus bill, CBS News reported. (CBS and CNET share a parent company.) Earlier, he said that if a deal goes through, McConnell would put it on the Senate floor “at some point,” according to Politico Senior Writer Jake Sherman.

Senate Republicans have sharply criticized the White House package, which includes a second stimulus check in addition to other aid. Voting on much more limited bills offers a clear rebuke of Trump’s position, and is further evidence that GOP senators could break with Trump, perhaps fearing for their personal reelection chances in an election that could potentially see Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the presidency. 

Trump has downplayed his concern about Republican backlash over the last week, most recently saying on Fox News he “will take care of that problem in two minutes” if the Senate opposes the bill. “If I had something that would be good, I think I could quickly convince the Republicans to do it.” That remains in doubt.

What happens if a bill doesn’t pass before the election and how could it affect Americans and the economy? Here’s what we know. We update this story with new information when it’s available.

Will any stand-alone or ‘skinny’ bills become law?

The Senate’s Paycheck Protection Program bill withered on the vine Tuesday, but on Wednesday we’ll also know the fate of the “skinny bill,” which includes enhanced unemployment aid for $300 extra per week. The latter is a revote on a package that failed to advance in the Senate in September and was blocked by Democrats

A narrow Senate bill is unlikely to pass in the House of Representatives, whose leader, Pelosi, has consistently rejected a stand-alone bill that is not tied to a larger aid package. Some Democratic lawmakers, however, have pushed for Pelosi to take a deal now rather than no deal.

Analysts consider the Senate’s bills a way to publicly demonstrate to voters that they’re taking coronavirus relief seriously, ahead of an election that could cause the Senate to lose its Republican majority.

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Democrats and Republicans have disagreed on how much relief aid should be included in the stimulus package. 


Sarah Tew/CNET

What if a COVID relief bill doesn’t pass before Nov. 3? 

At this point, there’s still a possibility that a new stimulus aid package will pass, though the uncertainties are many. Here are some ways events could play out.

A White House offer is finalized in time and passes: In this best-case scenario, a bill passes both chambers of Congress and is signed into law before Nov. 3. Stimulus checks and other aid would likely begin to go out within weeks.

A White House offer is finalized and fails in the Senate: In this situation, the House could either attempt to pick up the Senate bills, if they pass that chamber, or wait until after the election — and potentially after the Jan. 20 inauguration — to revisit stimulus aid, potentially setting back the clock by months.

A White House offer is not finalized in time and talks continue: This scenario is much like above, and would effectively stall a bill earlier than the previous scenario. It’s likely that the House would then use this bill as a starting point to push the bill through faster once negotiations revive post-election. 

Senate bills pass and the House passes as a last-ditch effort: In the event that the Senate’s narrow stimulus bills pass that chamber, the House would have the option to take them up. If they passed, Trump would be able to sign them into law or veto them. It would be likely that Congress would take up another stimulus package after the election regardless. 

Talks stop until after the election results are in: If talks don’t yield an actionable bill, negotiations could limp along or stop altogether. However, it’s likely they’ll restart in some capacity immediately after the election and leading into January. It’s been speculated that if Trump loses the election and if the Senate loses its majority, there will be little incentive to pass a sweeping package until 2021 during the transition.

To help visualize when a bill could pass, we’ve speculated and come up with five possible dates, both before and after the November election. If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here’s how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

When could a stand-alone stimulus bill or package pass?

House votes Senate votes President signs
Oct. 26 Oct. 27 Oct. 28
Nov. 9 Nov. 10 Nov. 11
Nov. 16 Nov. 17 Nov. 18
Nov. 23 Nov. 24 Nov. 25
Feb. 1, 2021 Feb. 2, 2021 Feb. 3, 2021

What happened to the House’s 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, was not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate, and indeed has not.

According to Pelosi, the vote on the revised Heroes bill was independent of ongoing negotiations with Mnuchin. 

The vote was 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.

What aid do Republicans and Democrats agree on?

Proposals from both sides have included 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. Although the Senate’s targeted bills do not include stimulus checks, in the past, Republicans (including those in the Senate) have supported them. Here are more details on what the Senate bill supports compared to the current package under negotiation and the most recent bill passed by the House.

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



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