When the Democratic leaders and the White House were unable to reach a deal on the next coronavirus stimulus package on Aug. 7, it meant there would be no second stimulus check in the immediate future. After delaying the Senate's recess for a week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned, allowing senators to leave Washington. Although the Senate is not set to return until Sept. 8 and the House of Representatives until Sept. 14, there is still a very slim chance that something may bring Congressmembers back, especially as the country also deals with the growing U.S. Postal Service crisis.
The Senate adjourned on Aug. 13 after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could not reach a deal with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. If the two sides do reach a deal, McConnell will give senators a 24-hour notice to get back to Washington to vote on the bill. Pelosi, Schumer, Mnuchin, and Meadows have not met in person since Aug. 7, which was the deadline they set to get a deal done after McConnell introduced the HEALS Act in the Senate.
Washington has not passed a coronavirus relief bill since the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act was signed into law on April 24. This act did not include a second stimulus check and instead focused on expanding funding for hospitals and increasing funds for PPP. House Democrats did pass the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, but Republicans refused to take it on in the Senate. Even some Democrats feared the HEROES Act's price tag was too big to get bipartisan support. However, the $1 trillion HEALS Act was not introduced until July 27.
Both the HEROES Act and HEALS Act included a second stimulus check, so there is at least one thing in common between the two proposals. Here are some reasons why a relief package could come together, even while most of Congress is not in Washington.
Both sides want to start talks again
Despite the huge gulf between Democrats and Republicans, the two sides have said talks could resume, but only if certain demands are met. On Thursday, Pelosi told reporters Democrats would only return to the table if Republicans agree to consider a $2 trillion package, about twice the cost of the HEALS Act. Pelosi and Mnuchin had a phone conversation on Wednesday, with Pelosi making the same $2 trillion offer. Mnuchin rejected it again, accusing Democrats of having "no interest in negotiating."
Trump has also made it clear he wants a stimulus check to happen while also attacking Democrats. "I have directed [Mnuchin] to get ready to send direct payments ($3,400 for a family of four) to all Americans," he tweeted. "DEMOCRATS ARE HOLDING THIS UP!"prevnext
Trump's executive orders did not include a stimulus check
After talks broke down, Trump signed an executive order and three memoranda on coronavirus relief efforts. The actions focused on creating a $400 unemployment benefit, a payroll tax holiday deferment, deferring student loan payments, and ordering the federal government to look at eviction protections. None of these covered stimulus checks. Legally, Trump cannot sign an executive order to unilaterally spend government funds Congress has not appropriated yet, so another stimulus check program can only be created through an act of Congress. (In the memorandum on the unemployment benefit, Trump redirected funds originally earmarked for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to pay for the federal government's portion of the unemployment program.)prevnext
The executive orders could take time to go into effect
The executive orders will also not go into effect immediately, as CNet points out. The new unemployment benefits program, in particular, has been criticized because it asks states to pay $100 of the $400 weekly benefit and it is not clear if all states will be able to chip in that much, in addition to the unemployment benefits they are already sending out. It could also take several weeks for unemployed Americans to begin seeing the benefit. Some labor experts said it could take up to a month before Americans see that check. The executive orders might also be challenged in court, especially the memorandum calling for a payroll tax deferment, as the Constitution gives Congress the power to control spending.prevnext
The orders do not cover aid for coronavirus testing
In addition to not covering the stimulus checks, the orders did not include any aid for testing, tracing, and treating the coronavirus. Trump also did not renew the moratorium on evictions, instead just ordering Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield to make recommendations on how to help renters and slow the spread of the virus. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson were also ordered to come up with ways to help renters financially. The HEALS Act did include money for testing, including $25 billion for "testing, contact tracing, and surveillance in states."prevnext
Politicians could use a win before November
In November, Trump, Pelosi, and McConnell are all up for reelection, so a new coronavirus stimulus package could help. The country's unemployment rate stands at 10.2% and last week was the first time less than 1 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment. During the week ending on Aug. 8, the Department of Labor reported 963,000 Americans filed for unemployment, ending 20 consecutive weeks of 1 million new jobless claims. Before the pandemic began, the unemployment rate was 3.5%, notes CNBC.prevnext
They could end up negotiating for coronavirus aid while also handling a government shutdown
If no deal is reached by the time the House and Senate return next month, they could have two issues on their plates simultaneously. Congress also needs to pass a government funding deal to avoid a government shutdown on Sept. 30. In her Thursday news conference, Pelosi said it would be impossible to wait until then to pass another stimulus package. "We can’t wait until Sept. 30. People will die," she said, reports CNBC. In late July, the House passed a $269.5 billion spending package to avoid the shutdown, but the Senate still needs to start its appropriations business, reports Politico.prev