Prior to the election, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Donald Trump were both in agreement to send another $1,200 stimulus check to Americans. But that plan was held up as the two sides debated the other items and final price tag of the next stimulus package: House Democrats stood firm at $2.2 trillion, while the White House’s final offer was about $1.9 trillion.
But the Joe Biden win has changed the dynamics of the negotiations. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the reins for Republicans in stimulus negotiations. And unlike Trump, McConnell doesn’t believe the economy needs another multi-trillion aid package nor more stimulus checks. The Kentucky Senator reiterated that assessment last week after the unemployment rate dropped to 6.9% in October—down from its 14.7% peak in April.
Instead, McConnell would prefer a more measured approach like the $500 billion “skinny” stimulus package that Senate Republicans put forward twice this year, which he deems “more appropriate.” Both times Senate Democrats blocked the package, which didn’t include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks, and Speaker Pelosi is maintaining that kind of deal is a “nonstarter,” recently telling reporters a smaller version “doesn’t appeal” to her.
It’s widely expected on Capitol Hill that nothing will get passed until after the inauguration in January. That means where Biden stands on the direct checks—and if he’s willing to stand his ground against McConnell—will largely determine the fate of another round of stimulus checks.
During the campaign Biden advocated for another round of stimulus checks that would be included in a massive economic aid package, along with items like forgiving $10,000 per person in federal student loans and providing emergency paid sick leave. However, Biden didn’t specify the amount or the conditions for the stimulus checks.
And while on the campaign trail Biden accosted Republicans for not passing the $3 trillion HEROES Act, which passed in the Democratic-controlled House in May. The HEROES Act would have provided another $1,200 stimulus check to tax payers, and $500 for each dependent.
In all likelihood, Biden and Pelosi would press for similar economic aid proposals—something that could ultimately end up resembling the HEROES Act. But they’re likely to face a stiff negotiating partner in McConnell—someone who was just reelected for six years—and is worried that another multi-trillion stimulus package would further ballon U.S. debt.
The wild card in the stimulus debates are the pair of Republican Georgia Senate seats going into runoffs in early January. If Republicans hold one Georgia seat, they retain the chamber, and some economists expect a smaller deal, around or under $1 trillion, would be more realistic to pass under a divided Congress. If Democrats take both, they’d have power of the 50–50 spilt chamber through the tie-breaking vote the Constitution grants the Vice President (now Vice President–elect Kamala Harris).
If Democrats manage to secure both legislative bodies, Democrats could move to use budget reconciliation in the Senate to pass a massive stimulus package including another round of stimulus checks after Biden’s inauguration in January. But if Republicans win one of the Georgia runoffs and retain the Senate, Democrats would need McConnell on board in order to pass another economic aid package.
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