Lawmakers return to Washington, D.C. this week to resume work on the next stimulus check bill, but they have a lot to work out before the bill can pass. Thankfully, there are some areas where the two sides have come to an agreement, but there are others where they are still far apart. With negotiations resuming on Tuesday, now is a great time to check in on their progress.
The stimulus package debate is split down both party lines and between the two legislatures. The Republican-controlled United States Senate is on one side, while the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives is on another. Arguably, the White House stands apart from both, while there are concerns about a split within the Senate as well. Either way, lawmakers not only want to get a bill passed for Americans in need, but for their chances at re-election.
This stimulus package has been in the works since at least May, when the House passed the HEROES Act. The Senate ignored that $3 trillion bill for about two months before countering with their own — the $1 trillion HEALS Act. The two proposals are now seen as representative of where the two sides began, and how far they must go to reach a compromise.
So far, all their progress towards the middle has come in the form of baby steps at best. After failing to pass something in early August, the U.S. Congress broke for a recess lasting almost a month. While negotiations did not stop entirely in that time, they could not make real progress without a formal session in the capital.
Finally, that is possible starting this week. Here is a look at what lawmakers have agreed on and what is still holding them back from passing a second stimulus check.
Agree: Need for More Aid
First and foremost, it's worth remembering that both sides agree that the U.S. needs more stimulus in some form to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying economic recession. Their disagreements over the form and scope of that financial aid are secondary. There are more and more reports that if the two sides can't agree on one large bill, the Senate and the White House will try to pass smaller packages without the House's input, just to get something out there.
So far, the only whisper of passing no aid at all comes from White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, who appeared on Bloomberg TV on Friday. The economist said "we can live without" another stimulus check, although even he suggested that some kind of aid would take its place.prevnext
Agree: Stimulus Check
It's also good news that all the sides in this debate have agreed to the terms of the stimulus check itself. The versions of the direct payment in both the HEROES Act and the HEALS Act look very similar to the one passed in the CARES Act back in March, with the same income-based eligibility structure. Americans who made $75,000 or less in their last tax filing will get the full $1,200 check, and the amount will decrease incrementally for any amount over that, up to an income of $99,000 per year.
The big difference between the two is the dependent payments — the HEROES Act would provide $1,200 per dependent, with a maximum of three per family, while the HEALS Act would provide $500 per dependent with no limit. However, both bills include adult dependents in those calculations, unlike the CARES Act.
The HEALS Act version seems the most likely to pass, and President Donald Trump has indicated that he will sign it into law as well. First, the other issues in the bill need to get worked out.prevnext
In August, the emergency enhanced unemployment insurance in the CARES Act seemed to be the big sticking point between the two sides. The House initially said it would not compromise on the amount — $600 per person — but that has changed. While Democrats have not come all the way down to Republicans' proposed $200 per week, they have agreed to drop their price. According to a report by AS English, the final version is likely to include $3000-$400 for unemployment.prevnext
Flexible: Budget Compromises
In recent weeks, both sides in the stimulus debate have shown some willingness to compromise on the bill's budget — if slowly and cautiously. White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has said that Republicans could agree to a bill costing $1.3 trillion, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has agreed to drop from $3 trillion all the way to $2.2 trillion. However, she told reporters that she is not going any further, and that Republicans will have to meet her there.
"We have said again and again that we are willing to come down [and] meet them in the middle," she said. "That would be $2.2 trillion. When they’re ready to do that, we'll be ready to discuss and negotiate. I did not get that impression on that call."prevnext
Disagree: State & Local Funding
One of the biggest gulfs in the two stimulus proposals is the money allocated to state and local governments for coronavirus testing, new safety measures and other pandemic-related funding. The Democrats' bill would provide $915 billion in total for these efforts, while the Republican bill offers just $150 billion.
This is one case where analysts say that both sides are equally far off from the real figure. According to a report by Forbes, the amount really needed is around $500 billion. Getting both sides to agree to such an even compromise should be easy, but it requires them to address the real roots of their stalemate.prevnext
Disagree: Overall Budget
While the particulars clearly play a role in this process, the unavoidable fact of these negotiations is that the two bills are at least a trillion dollars apart in scope. Republicans have argued vehemently against spending more than $1 trillion, citing concerns about the rising national debt. On the other hand, with looming crises like mass unemployment, mass evictions and even food insecurity, Democrats do not see this as a time to hold back.
Democrats were criticized for the size of the HEROES Act back in May, as it was over a trillion dollars higher than even the CARES Act back in March. However, analysts have guessed that many provisions there were included as bargaining chips, and now that the House has agreed to $2.2 trillion — the same budget as the CARES Act — the Senate should do the same.prevnext
Disagree: Negotiation Approach0comments
Finally, a recent report by Forbes analyst Rob Berger noted the stark difference in approaches by the two sides in this debate. Berger wrote: "Republicans want to evaluate and negotiate each major piece of the stimulus package... In contrast, Democrats want to focus on the top line number. They want to reach agreement on the total cost of the package and then fill in the details later."
The two sides will need to square these disparate strategies before they can make any real progress, as Democrats will not be satisfied with whatever fits into $1 trillion. Stimulus negotiations resume on Tuesday, Sept. 8 in Washington, D.C.prev