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Stimulus package status: Negotiations race with new hope toward Dec. 11 goalpost

CNET logo CNET 17 hrs ago Jessica Dolcourt
Will the deep political divide in Congress keep interfering with stimulus negotiations? Sarah Tew/CNET © Provided by CNET Will the deep political divide in Congress keep interfering with stimulus negotiations? Sarah Tew/CNET

Stimulus negotiations, at long last, are gaining momentum. By Thursday, the nation's top Democrats -- including President-elect Joe Biden -- rallied behind a $908 billion COVID-19 relief proposal crafted by a group of Republican and Democratic senators. Introduced on Tuesday, the sub-trillion-dollar "framework" broke out funding for programs, but is not yet a written bill. 

The new proposal includes $300 in weekly unemployment aid, and money for small businesses and vaccine distributions, among other measures. It would not include a second stimulus check (here's why we think another direct payment could still come in 2021.)

On Monday, the group is expected to present the finished package, with an eye to negotiating terms and bringing it to a vote as soon as next week. Both House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have their sights set on Dec. 11 as the day to pass another coronavirus stimulus bill, the same day that funding for the federal government runs out. 

a piece of paper: A new stimulus bill could help behind a second check. © Angela Lang/CNET

A new stimulus bill could help behind a second check.

In fact, the two bills could merge.

"Most likely, anything now is probably gonna ride on the spending bill," said Senate Majority Whip John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, on Wednesday.

But despite the twin calls of urgency and optimism from both sides of the aisle this week, towering hurdles remain. The first is McConnell, who on Tuesday dismissed the $908 billion proposal out of hand and instead advanced a third revision to a $500 billion "skinny" bill that twice failed in the Senate and was blocked by Democrats, and would likely fail again.

Yet, McConnell signaled on Thursday that he's open to an agreement.

"Compromise is within reach. We know where we agree. We can do this," McConnell said Thursday, CNBC reported.

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The second hurdle is the issue of compromise itself. While Pelosi and Schumer now advocate using the $908 trillion framework as the basis of negotiations, the Democratic leaders made it clear that they wouldn't accept it as-is. 

"Of course, we and others will offer improvements, but the need to act is immediate, and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement," they said Wednesday in a joint statement.

Biden, too, underscored that the framework is a stopgap measure only, stressing the need for more stimulus in 2021.

"Right now, the full Congress should come together and pass a robust package for relief to address these urgent needs. But any package passed in a lame-duck session is lucky to be at best, just a start," he said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the US reported the highest daily number of US deaths related to the coronavirus, and over 200,000 new cases and 100,000 hospitalizations -- smashing another grim new record.

Here's what we know about where negotiations stand right now and what could happen before the end of the year.

Read moreWhat Biden could do for stimulus if another bill doesn't pass

a group of flyers on a table: Time is running out to get a stimulus bill passed before the end of 2020. Sarah Tew/CNET © Provided by CNET Time is running out to get a stimulus bill passed before the end of 2020. Sarah Tew/CNET

How quickly could a new stimulus bill come to a vote?

Here are some possible scenarios that could play out over the coming weeks and months, depending on which way the wind blows in Washington.

What could happen next?

A stimulus bill is completed before Jan. 20: An agreement is made, and the current House and Senate vote before the new Congress is seated in January. If Trump signs the rescue bill into law, aid would likely begin to go out within weeks, with certain groups receiving financial help before the end of 2020.

Negotiators agree on a stimulus deal, but it fails in either the House or Senate: In this situation, Democrats and Republicans could advance their own proposals that might pass in their majority chambers but fail (or fail to be considered) by the other. In this case, Congress might try again after Biden is sworn in as president.

A smaller bill could pass now, and a larger one could happen later: It's possible that a subset of programs would get funded before Biden becomes president, for example unemployment aid or an extension of the eviction ban, with the new Congress revisiting other programs, like a second stimulus check, after his inauguration. As sitting president, Trump would need to sign any bill passed before Jan. 20 into law for it to take effect.

Talks once again fall apart until after Jan. 20: If partisan differences keep a bill from passing, it's likely they'll restart in some capacity after the inauguration in January. Here are some executive actions Biden could take immediately if a stimulus bill doesn't pass by the time he's sworn in as president.

If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here's how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

text: Stimulus negotiations are under incredible stress. Sarah Tew/CNET © Provided by CNET Stimulus negotiations are under incredible stress. Sarah Tew/CNET

Yes, the $2.4 trillion Democratic stimulus proposal still matters

On Oct. 1, the House of Representatives passed a revised Heroes Act that included a second stimulus check and additional benefits such as enhanced unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans. The House bill, endorsed primarily by Democrats, was not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate, and indeed did not.

Although it is not law, this bill provides the foundation from which Pelosi is working now and might work from in the future, if another stimulus bill picks up steam after Biden's inauguration in 2021. This revised Heroes Act has Biden's support and could figure into future negotiations, depending on whether Georgia's state runoff on Jan. 5 gives Democrats control of the Senate (Republicans currently maintain a two-seat lead).

Which funding measures do Republicans and Democrats both embrace?

Proposals from both sides have included the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, enhanced unemployment insurance, and another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements. Although not every commonality would make it into a smaller bill, if that were to pass first, these measures are most likely to gain bipartisan support. The two sides also agree on more financial assistance for coronavirus testing and vaccine deployment.

Here are more details on the biggest points of contention between the White House, Republicans and Democrats.

For more information about stimulus checks, here's how soon you might get your second stimulus check now, what you should do to speed up the delivery of a potential second 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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