Election Day has passed and COVID-19 lockdowns are returning. Millions of Americans are still desperately awaiting some kind of aid in the form of stimulus checks or expanded federal unemployment, like the kind that was passed with the CARES Act back in March but has since expired. Here’s the latest on what’s happening in Washington with the long-promised congressional bill for coronavirus relief:
Now that elections are over, can Congress can just pass a stimulus package?
You must have America confused with a Northern European country.
Wait, why not?
Two words: Georgia runoffs. Two Senate seats are up for grabs on January 5 in the Peach State, and the outcome will decide whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate. The winning party will have much more negotiation power over a stimulus package than either party holds now. Unfortunately for the American people, this disincentivizes either side to pass a bill before the runoffs.
Why wasn’t a package passed this fall?
Both parties feared alienating voters right before an election (or handing the other side a win), so instead House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House pretended to negotiate right up to the election, homing in on a $2 trillion bill. Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, did not participate in these negotiations, and then asked the White House to not actually make a deal before elections.
What’s going to happen now?
Free face masks and Xanax for everyone! Kidding. Until the Georgia runoffs happen, expect more of the same pre-election posturing. Neither side wants to tip Georgians’ votes away, so both sides will try to appear like they’re helping the American people as they are brutally stymied by the other party. McConnell will likely return to the negotiating table.
Map out what could happen after the Georgia runoffs
If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, they’ll have the leverage to refuse to pass an aid bill above McConnell’s preferred size of around $500 billion. If Democrats control the Senate, they can pass a much larger bill, more in line with the $3.5 trillion HEROES Act that House Democrats passed in May. But, there’s a caveat: The most conservative Democrats in the Senate will likely insist that the bill be much smaller. Expect backdoor wheeling and dealing by Joe Biden.
I heard that stimulus relief could be tacked onto the upcoming government funding bill
You must be referring to the fallout of the October government funding bill that Congress passed to keep the lights on until December 11. Now, congresspeople need to pass another funding bill ASAP. Hypothetically, a bit of stimulus could be tacked onto this, but don’t bet on it, as that wouldn’t be a win for either party, and both sides fear swaying Georgia voters.
Isn’t it crazy to fund a government a few weeks at a time under menace of shutdown?
Bananas. But that’s another article.