Congressional lawmakers reconvened on Capitol Hill on Monday following a Thanksgiving recess. With the end of December quickly approaching, the House and Senate have fewer than two weeks left this year to put several critical pieces of legislation to a vote.
Although another round of stimulus relief is on everybody’s mind, lawmakers will likely focus primarily on approving a federal funding bill to avoid a government shutdown. These last few sessions are Congress’s final opportunity to extend key measures that end on December 31, such as enhanced unemployment benefits and renters’ protections. There is a chance that a few standalone provisions such as more stimulus checks may be included in the upcoming bill.
Although negotiations have remained deadlocked for months, both parties have expressed the need for some level of federal assistance. With the lives of millions of people in the balance, the call has become louder on both sides.
“We need to do this now,” Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, Republican, declared last Sunday. “We need to continue the funding for the vaccine, the delivery of the vaccine. We need to stabilize, though, through that — the payroll protection effort that worked so well. Direct money to struggling families would be helpful and some of extension of unemployment.”
The last session of Congress is being held during one of the most fatal weeks of the pandemic. Last month, the number of confirmed cases in the US doubled from October. According to the latest predictions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 294,000 to 321,000 Americans could die by December 19.
To make matters worse, the unemployment rate remains sky-high and more people are filing first-time claims each week. Amid widespread unemployment, as many as 20 million tenants are in danger of eviction this winter, while nearly one in six Americans suffer from hunger.
“The economy is going to be very uncomfortable between now and when we get the next fiscal rescue package,” Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi explained to the Associated Press on November 25. “If lawmakers can’t get it together, it will be very difficult for the economy to avoid going back into a recession.”
With only nine in-session working days left for the House and 14 days for the Senate, the clock is ticking. With just nine days to negotiate, write up, and put a new stimulus deal to a vote, lawmakers will need to work double-time to pass any legislation.
Following the final votes taken December 4, for instance, members of the House “are encouraged to remain in Washington,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer remarked last Friday. “As conversations surrounding legislation related to government funding, coronavirus relief and NDAA are ongoing, these bills will be considered by the House as soon as they are ready.”
If necessary, Congressional leaders can call legislators back to Washington to take a special vote. In the meantime, CNet explains what you should know about the state of stimulus talks and what outcome — if any — could happen before January.
Will Congress Approve Any Relief Before January?
It has been eight months since Congress passed the historic CARES Act to support Americans and the economy at the beginning of the pandemic. Since then, Democrats and Republicans have failed to negotiate another stimulus bill and mostly followed party lines.
There are several points of contention, but the size of the next bill is one of the most significant sticking points. While House Democrats support a broad measure with more direct payments, Republicans back a limited version as a temporary measure until a coronavirus treatment becomes widely available.
Consequently, there is more urgency for Democratic leaders President-elect Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve a limited bill versus the HEROES Act the House passed in May.
The $2.2 trillion stimulus package contains another round of stimulus checks for eligible taxpayers, plus more funds for dependents. The HEROES Act would also renew supplemental unemployment benefits and funding for state and local governments.
Democratic leaders are considering approving the GOP’s stopgap bill as a way to get Americans some support until Biden approves more comprehensive legislation after he is sworn into office. However, an insider on Biden’s transition team rejected this idea, according to a report from Jeff Stein, a reporter for The Washington Post.
On November 23, Stein tweeted, “Asked if Biden or his team are pushing congressional Dems for a quicker but potentially smaller stimulus, Biden spokesman @AndrewBatesNC says: ‘This is incorrect. The president-elect fully supports the Speaker and Leader in their negotiations.'”
So will more relief come before January? There’s a chance for more stimulus checks, but it’s slim. Americans may not want to get their hopes up for a broader bill.
- Dolcourt, Jessica. “Stimulus Package: Congress Is Back for a Final Sprint in 2020. Can a COVID-19 Bill Get Done?” CNET, CNET, 30 Nov. 2020, www.cnet.com/personal-finance/stimulus-package-congress-is-back-for-a-final-sprint-in-2020-can-a-covid-19-bill-get-done/.