Senate Republicans have rolled out their $500 billion "skinny" coronavirus relief bill without any provision for stimulus check 2 -- and Democrats blocked it from advancing (opens in new tab) in a procedural vote Thursday (Sept. 10).
But even as support for the GOP proposal remains uncertain, Americans may not see another direct payment unless Democrats are able to push their own bill through.
Before negotiations between Democrats, the Senate GOP and Trump administration officials fizzled out last month, all parties generally agreed on the particulars of a second stimulus check.
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Both the House-passed HEROES Act and the Senate-pitched HEALS Act would send $1,200 payments to American taxpayers who had already received relief under March's CARES Act. Both bills actually expand those benefits to include money for adult dependents over age 16, including college students and the elderly.
However, Democrats and the White House have been at odds over how much to spend on a second stimulus package overall, as well as which benefits to fund.
The Democrats' HEROES Act, which cleared the House in May, would cost more than $3 trillion (far more than the CARES Act), would resume the $600 weekly unemployment-benefit supplements that ended on July 31, and would funnel billions to tax-starved local and state governments.
In August, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) said Democrats would be willing to knock $1 trillion off the price tag.
The Republicans' HEALS Act, proposed in July, would cost about $1.1 trillion, shield businesses from liability related to coronavirus cases and cut the supplemental unemployment benefits to $200 a week.
A $700 billion spending gap
Last week, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said the White House would be willing to come up to $1.5 trillion, inching closer to Pelosi's most recent proposal for $2.2 trillion.
Yet for there to be any hope for stimulus check 2, Democrats would have to restart the stalled negotiations with the White House to overcome the $700 billion gap in total spending.
The GOP's new "skinny" bill would raise the supplemental unemployment benefits to $300 per week, but it drops the stimulus checks while keeping the business liability protections and adding money for schools and the U.S. Postal Service.
At $500 billion, the "skinny" bill is a far cry from the Democrats' current proposal, and The Hill suggests (opens in new tab) that the GOP is losing political leverage as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) struggles to unite Republican senators behind the legislation.
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) have refused to consider any "skinny" bill that excludes stimulus checks.
Meanwhile, Politico reports (opens in new tab) that the focus in Washington could soon shift to averting a government shutdown at the end of the month, leaving the passage of a second-stimulus-check bill even less likely.
What's next for stimulus check 2?
The Senate voted on whether to let the "skinny" bill advance Thursday. As expected, it failed to move forward on a 52-47 vote. Because of the filibuster rule, 60 votes are required to get almost anything done in the Senate these days.
All 44 Democrats and two independents present cast "Nay" votes, as did Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who thought the bill cost too much. Fifty-two Republican senators voted to let the bill advance. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) was campaigning in Florida and was not present for the vote.
Still, 52 votes in favor of advancing the "skinny" bill may be the symbolic victory McConnell wanted. He hopes that winning a Senate majority vote will put pressure on Pelosi and Schumer to give up more ground in the HEROES-HEALS negotiations.