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Stimulus update: What can Joe Biden do to push second checks and extra unemployment before 2021?

Short answer: He can set the right tone but not much else.

Stimulus update: What can Joe Biden do to push second checks and extra unemployment before 2021?
[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]
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A cliff lies ahead for millions of Americans six weeks from now, when a raft of emergency pandemic aid expires, including the 13-week extension of unemployment insurance, student loan forbearances, and eviction moratoriums. But! Unlike the previous eight months of congressional deadlock on a second stimulus bill, a new president-elect is now on the scene. Can Joe Biden do anything before he’s sworn in on January 20? Short answer: no.

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How is Uncle Joe approaching the situation?

Diplomatically. On Monday he avoided pointing fingers and encouraged both sides to work together, saying, “Refusal of Democrats [and] Republicans to cooperate with one another is not due to some mysterious force beyond our control. It’s a conscious decision. If we can decide not to cooperate, we could decide to cooperate.”

Where do congressional negotiations stand?

Nowhere. As Politico put it, “There are no conversations right now about another round of Covid relief. None. The White House is silent. The Hill is quiet. That means no new programs, no new money for Americans before the holiday season.”

So what’s going to happen?

The House and Senate only have 10 more shared days in session before the holidays. So likely nothing.

Can Biden do anything?

No. Until January, he is just a guy on Zoom, neither in Congress nor the White House. These days he is mostly trying to set a new tone for January, which can be summarized as cooperate, people. 

Are the key players cooperating?

No. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not budging from his position. He wants a $500 billion “narrowly targeted” bill. Biden wants “a relief package like the HEROES Act,” the $3.4 trillion Democrat package that passed the House in May. On Tuesday House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to McConnell, inviting him back to the negotiation table.

What needs to happen for me to get a second stimulus check or expanded unemployment?

A good start would be if both Georgia Senate seat runoffs go blue on January 5. That would swing the Senate Democratic, allowing a bill to pass both the House and Senate shortly after Inauguration Day. Otherwise, the gridlock will likely continue.