(CBS Detroit) — The mad dash to pass a second stimulus package by election day has reached its final hours. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi set a Tuesday deadline for House Democrats and the Trump administration to agree to terms on a deal. But that is only one of multiple hurdles in the race to put more money in the pockets of struggling Americans and help support a struggling economy. And, believe it or not, it may not even be the biggest hurdle.
At the eleventh hour, the two sides are actually pretty close, if you set aside the $400 billion difference between the House bill and the White House bill. The two bills contain many of the same elements.
The $2.2 trillion House proposal, an updated version of the HEROES Act passed a few weeks ago, includes:
- A stimulus payment of up to $1,200, with $500 for each dependent.
- More payroll support for small businesses, which will now include airlines.
- Weekly federal unemployment benefits of $600 on top of whatever states provide, lasting through January 2021.
- Funding for state and local governments to pay essential workers like first responders and health workers.
The $1.8 trillion White House proposal, after much negotiation with the House, includes:
- A stimulus payment of up to $1,200, with $1,000 for each child dependent.
- Weekly federal unemployment benefits of $400 on top of whatever states provide.
- Funding for states and cities in the amount of $300 billion.
- Funding for coronavirus testing and tracing.
The two sides have come together quite a bit in the weeks since negotiations intensified. And some estimates place the total cost of a compromise bill as high as $2.4 trillion. But whatever compromise they may come to will be a long way from where Senate Republicans currently stand.
The Senate, which would have to vote on a second stimulus package, was scheduled to vote Tuesday on a $500 billion extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, which loans money to businesses to help them keep employees during the continuing pandemic. It will vote Wednesday on the same “skinny” bill it put forth last month. That separate $500 billion package includes:
- Weekly federal unemployment benefits of $300 on top of whatever states provide.
- Funding to help reopen schools.
- Additional support for the U.S. Postal Service.
- Protection from liability for employers, limiting what employees can sue if they contract COVID-19 on the job.
- Another round of stimulus payments is not part of the Senate proposal.
The Senate’s package falls somewhere between $1.3 trillion and $1.9 trillion short of a theoretical compromise between the House and the White House. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to “consider” their compromise package, and said Tuesday that he would bring a “presidentially-supported bill” to the Senate floor for a vote “at some point.” That point, of course, could be after the election. Senate Republicans seem loathe to spend more money at this moment. So whatever deal that may pass in the House would be unlikely to pass in the Senate.
Senate Republicans have been sharply critical of the high price tag. One key sticking point is funding for state and local governments, which House Democrats support, but Senate Republicans believe would mostly benefit blue states. Liability protection is not included in the House bill but is in the Senate bill. The sides are also far apart on unemployment benefits.
McConnell told Senate Republicans Tuesday that he advised the White House not to make a pre-election deal on a large coronavirus stimulus bill. Trump has downplayed his concern about Republican pushback over the last week, recently saying he “will take care of that problem in two minutes” if the Senate doesn’t support the bill. “If I had something that would be good, I think I could quickly convince the Republicans to do it.”
The election is now two weeks away. Supposing Pelosi and Mnuchin reach a deal, and then Trump somehow convinces Senate Republicans to fall in line, that doesn’t leave a lot of time to pass a stimulus package. The official bill would have to be written. Representatives and Senators would have to vote, and then they President would have to sign it.
And that would all have to happen before November 3, because after the election, everything could change. Current polling shows Trump is trailing challenger Joe Biden nationally and in swing states like Arizona and Wisconsin. While the president now seems likely to support another round of stimulus that includes a check with his signature on it, that political calculus may change if he loses the election. The Senate could change hands as well, also leaving Republican Senators with different priorities.
A lame-duck president and lame-duck senators won’t be inclined to pass a stimulus bill they could have advanced anytime in the last five months. (The House passed the original HEROES Act in May.) They may instead prefer to make life hard on the incoming administration. That would mean letting a second round of stimulus languish until January, when the White House and Senate revert to Democratic control.
In the meantime, Americans will continue to suffer as the economy staggers along.