Stimulus Clock Ticking as Congress Has Just 14 Days To Work Out Relief Package This Year

As COVID-19 cases surge in the U.S., negotiations into a second stimulus package remain in limbo as Congress returns Monday.

Democrats and Republicans remain opposed about the scope of financial relief, but are expected to have the topic close to the top of their agendas as the end of the year draws near and president-elect Joe Biden prepares to enter the White House.

Timescales will be tight, with the House of Representatives having nine in-session days, and the Senate having 14, before breaking for New Year, Cnet reported.

In the months since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed in March, the health crisis sparked by the virus has worsened. Now, the U.S. has recorded more than 13 million infections and over 260,000 deaths.

In October, House Democrats passed the $2.2 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus and Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which sought to give Americans a second stimulus check of up to $1,200 and extend key financial benefits. But it was stalled by Republican lawmakers who favor a targeted approach to payouts.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said lawmakers would agree to a targeted bill worth $500 billion, while Democrats pushed for a blanket package that would have allocated $400 billion alone to state and local governments.

Democrats have pushed for an extra $600 in citizens' weekly pay provided under the CARES Act to be renewed in any future package, CBS News reported.

Without agreement, several government relief schemes under the CARES act are set to expire on December 26, including the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits, the ban on home evictions based on inability to pay rent and deferment of student loan bills.

According to The Aspen Institute, up to 30 million people in the U.S. are at risk of eviction in the coming months, while six million now rely on expanded unemployment benefits.

Congressman James Comer (R-KY) told Fox News on Saturday any deal would need to be targeted and that he believed the odds of an agreement are slim.

"Moving forward to the second stimulus bill, we need to have targeted stimulus. The restaurant industry, I think that's the one industry that there's bipartisan agreement that there is a desperate need for assistance," Comer said.

"But we have a situation in Washington where Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to do target stimulus, she wants to do another blanket stimulus bill, and give money to everyone and forgive student loan debt and just a liberal Christmas wish list that's just not going to happen because we just can't afford it." He did not elaborate on timescales.

According to Cnet, the new stimulus package could include a second stimulus check and extra unemployment money and funding for small businesses. But, as noted by CBS, it could take weeks for any funds to reach recipients' bank accounts.

In recent weeks, House Speaker Pelosi has reiterated a desire to make progress on the COVID-19 relief negotiations with Republican counterparts.

In a letter to Sen. McConnell on November 17 Pelosi said the Democrats were open to a compromise by lowering the financial request by $1.2 trillion. In a press briefing on November 20, Pelosi said Republicans were "willing to ignore" the problem.

"The need for action could not be more urgent. Real, meaningful relief is desperately needed. No surprise to anyone, perhaps except Mitch McConnell," she said.

On November 20, McConnell accused the Democrats of blocking COVID-19 targeted relief measures for months with "all-or-nothing demands."

While it is unclear if any decision will be made, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on Friday that "conversations surrounding legislation related to government funding, coronavirus relief, and NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] are ongoing." Hoyer said the House may complete legislative business early the week of December 7.

 Nancy Pelosi
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, on October 29, 2020. Speaker Pelosi spoke about the latest coronavirus relief bill negotiations and the upcoming presidential election. Sarah Silbiger/Getty