Stimulus check 2: Bipartisan bills could be long-awaited breakthrough

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Lawmakers may be making progress on additional stimulus relief as a bipartisan group of moderate senators has agreed to split its $908 billion bill into two smaller, potentially more digestible packages. 

The original plan unveiled earlier this month would restart federal unemployment aid at $300 per week for 16 weeks, extend rental assistance and provide funds for the Paycheck Protection Program as well as state and local governments — a key Democratic priority. But the bill did not include stimulus check 2, which would have raised the total cost above $1 trillion and dimmed its chances in the Senate. 

After the split, one $748 billion proposal would contain the measures both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, such as unemployment assistance and small business aid, CNN reports

A smaller $160 billion package includes more contentious items: state and local government funding, which Democrats want and Republicans oppose, and Republicans’ liability protections against coronavirus-related lawsuits for businesses both large and small, which Democrats oppose. 

While it’s not yet clear how the bills will be received or how Senate and House leadership will proceed, it’s expected that the larger proposal containing unemployment and small business aid could garner widespread support — and both sides may be willing to give up their wish lists in order to get something passed. 

Politico reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), who so far has resisted spending levels proposed by Democrats while drawing a hard line on liability protections, may rally lawmakers behind a bill that lacks the more divisive measures. 

Democrats may follow suit. 

“We need to get the essential done,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) said on Sunday (Dec. 13). “We'll have time to get stuff done that we didn't include because we couldn't get political agreement, we'll have time to do that.”

However, a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) suggested that aid to state and local governments is still a top priority. Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) have so far resisted efforts to break all-encompassing stimulus-relief bills into bite-sized chunks.

What about stimulus check 2? 

While neither split bill contains a second direct payment, it’s not entirely off the table just yet. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) introduced a $300 billion standalone bill last week that would send $1,200 checks to Americans who qualified for direct payments under the CARES Act last spring. 

Both liberal lawmakers and President Trump have offered support for Hawley’s proposal. This past Saturday (Dec. 12), Trump said he wanted "more money" for stimulus checks.

Other relief packages that have been floated in recent weeks include a $916 billion White House plan with one-time, $600 stimulus checks, and a $550 billion proposal from McConnell that lacks both direct payments and unemployment aid. 

If the bipartisan bill that everyone likes does indeed pass, and Democrats and Republicans drop their demands for liability protections and local-government aid, then it might be possible to provide money for another round of stimulus checks without the cost of everything going far above $1 trillion. But that's a big if.

Emily Long

Emily Long is a Utah-based freelance writer who covers consumer technology, privacy and personal finance for Tom's Guide. She has been reporting and writing for nearly 10 years, and her work has appeared in Wirecutter, Lifehacker, NBC BETTER and CN Traveler, among others. When she's not working, you can find her trail running, teaching and practicing yoga, or studying for grad school — all fueled by coffee, obviously.