by Maurie Backman | Oct. 16, 2020
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Will stimulus talks finally move forward now that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is ready to be flexible?
It's been months since Americans saw meaningful coronavirus relief land in their bank accounts, and countless households are holding their breaths for a second stimulus check. But until a larger relief bill is signed into law, a follow-up stimulus round can't go out.
Lawmakers have duked it out over a second relief bill since summertime, and haggled over everything from the price of the bill (Democrats want to spend a lot more than Republicans) to boosted unemployment (Democrats want more of it) to state and local aid (ditto).
At this stage, it's highly unlikely that a second stimulus check will go out before the November election. But could a deal still be reached before then? Possibly.
Today, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated that the White House won't let differences over funding targets for coronavirus testing get in the way of stimulus talks. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the lead negotiator for Democrats, previously identified COVID-19 testing as a major issue in moving a deal forward, but to this end, Mnuchin says Republicans are willing to be flexible, agreeing to $178 billion for overall health and $75 billion for testing and contact tracing. He also says he's not going to let the testing issue stall stimulus talks any longer, and that he'll agree to the language Democrats proposed on testing in a final bill.
That's good news, at least in theory. The more issues lawmakers agree on, the sooner an all-encompassing relief bill can move forward. But the reality is that coronavirus testing is just one of several sticking points that's held up agreement thus far, and even if it's settled today or in the very near future, there are other hurdles to jump.
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Though Mnuchin's willingness to compromise on coronavirus testing is encouraging, the reality is that lawmakers still need to agree on an ultimate price tag for a relief bill, and that's been difficult. Democrats' initial proposal called for $3.4 trillion, but they've come down on that figure, and recently passed a $2.2 trillion bill in the House. Republicans' last offer, meanwhile, sat at $1.8 million, though President Donald Trump has stated he's willing to go higher. Lawmakers will need to iron this issue out for a bill to get passed in the near term. They'll also need to figure out how much boosted unemployment benefit jobless workers will receive. Democrats want jobless benefits boosted by $600 a week, while Republicans argue that a boost that high will disincentivize workers to return to a job once that opportunity arises.
At this point, there is a chance lawmakers could sign a stimulus bill prior to the election, but for that to happen, both sides need to be more flexible. And even if a relief bill is signed prior to November that includes a second stimulus check, it will take the IRS a few weeks to distribute that money, which means that for now, struggling Americans will have to find other ways to make ends meet.
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