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Stimulus update: Extra unemployment or second checks could be on the chopping block in competing packages

Congress has limited working days left before the end of 2020. Here’s the latest update on competing stimulus plans for coronavirus relief.

Stimulus update: Extra unemployment or second checks could be on the chopping block in competing packages
[Photo: Bill O’Leary/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]
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The clusterjam of semi-dysfunctional negotiations continues in Washington as Congress rolls into month nine of trying to pass a second stimulus package for coronavirus relief. The good news: Everyone is back at the table. The bad news: They’re at different tables.

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What’s the latest?

A bipartisan group of Congresspeople have been feverishly working on a proposal for weeks. They now have the support of both Democratic leaders and centrist Republicans. Yesterday, the White House released a counterproposal.

Are the two proposals close together?

Kinda. The White House bill is $916 billion, and the bipartisan bill is $908 billion. This is huge progress.

Where is Mitch McConnell in this?

As usual, on his own horse somewhere in Kentucky. He controls whether the bill reaches the Senate floor. This year he has repeatedly proposed “skinny” bills of around $500 billion, much lower than the $3 trillion-plus proposal that Democrats had been sticking to.

McConnell, the Senate majority leader, did not participate in bipartisan negotiations, and has offered conflicting statements on what he’ll support. Yesterday, he let it be known that he approves of the White House proposal, and in a further show of compromise, seemed to back off his “red line” insistence on liability protection for businesses facing COVID-related lawsuits, which has been a sticking point. But he did so while again suggesting yet another skinny bill: “What I recommend is we set aside liability and set aside state and local, and pass those things that we can agree on knowing full well we’ll be back at this after the first of the year,” McConnell told reporters, per CNBC. These are not words in support of either bill currently on the table.

What’s in all this for me?

Good question. There is not a ton of direct aid for struggling Americans. However, there are pauses on student loan payments, extended eviction bans, and likely $300 per week in continued extra federal unemployment. How long that unemployment will last is hotly debated: The bipartisan proposal includes 4.5 times more unemployment funding than the White House bill.

Please tell me there are stimulus checks

Yes and no! The White House Bill includes $600 stimulus checks, plus $600 per child, as the New York Times reports, but it would not include the additional $300 weekly unemployment benefits. This is not surprising, given that President Trump has consistently supported checks. Conversely, the bipartisan bill would likely include the unemployment but no direct payments.

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What’s going to happen?

Hang tight: We’ll know by December 18. This stimulus package was going to be tacked onto the government spending bill that needed to pass this week to keep the lights on in the government. Instead, Congress employed yet another procrastinatory tactic, and passed a short-term bill that gives them until December 18 to pass a government spending bill. Stay tuned.