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There's finally hope for a second stimulus check — here's why

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Stimulus-bill talks among lawmakers and White House officials, which appeared to be gaining momentum in recent weeks, are now slowing down as lawmakers squabble and multiple proposals are taken up for consideration — not all of which include unemployment benefits or stimulus check 2

Here's a rundown of what's on the table and what kind of relief Americans would receive under each bill. 

The bipartisan Senate $908 billion bill

The most talked-about bill is a $908 billion plan unveiled last week by a group of centrist senators from both parties. Their proposal would restart federal supplements to state unemployment benefits at $300 per week — just half of what was provided under the CARES Act last spring — for 16 weeks. 

While it would also extend rental assistance and Paycheck Protection Program funds, as well as provide aid for cash-strapped state and local governments, a key Democratic demand that Republicans hate, it does not include a second stimulus check. 

Adding a stimulus check would push the cost of the bill above $1 trillion, a number that would presumably doom its chances in the GOP-led Senate.

The bipartisan proposal appeared to gain President-Elect Joe Biden's support, although Biden said it "would be better" if stimulus check 2 were included. However, a number of lawmakers from both parties have come out against the bill due to the lack of a direct stimulus payment. 

McConnell's pared-down $550 billion proposal

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) put forward his own version of a stimulus package, which would not provide unemployment benefits or stimulus check 2. 

Like the bipartisan bill above, it would create liability protections against COVID-related lawsuits for small businesses and large corporations alike, a Republican provision that Democrats hate. 

Previously, McConnell had expressed support for ongoing federal unemployment assistance, a measure that was included in two $500 billion "skinny" bills that failed to advance in the Senate earlier this fall. It's not clear what the status of this proposal is now that the White House has put forward a separate plan (see below), but it's one that Senate Republicans would likely pass.

The $916 billion White House plan

McConnell thought he had White House backing for his proposal, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this week suddenly came forward with a third proposal.

The White House's $916 billion bill would send a one-time $600 stimulus check to eligible Americans and extend expiring unemployment benefits to freelance and "gig" workers by one month.

In terms of pleasing both parties, it provides the business-liability protections Republicans want and the local-government aid Democrats want. But it would not resume the weekly federal supplements to people who would normally get state unemployment payments. 

"We view this as a more effective way to get the money out quickly," Mnuchin said on Wednesday

Congressional Republicans have expressed frustration at Mnuchin's proposal, as it showed divisions in the GOP ranks. The party's proposals after the election were supposed to have been led by McConnell until the White House changed its mind. 

"It's not helpful to have multiple voices," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisconsin) said this week. Yet McConnell has given the White House plan his tacit support, so for now, it's the official GOP position.

A $300 billion standalone stimulus-check bill

Finally, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri), who came out against the bipartisan Senate deal due to the lack of stimulus check 2, is pushing for another round of direct payments in whatever proposal passes. On Thursday (Dec. 10), he introduced a standalone bill to send $1,200 checks to American taxpayers using the same eligibility requirements included in the CARES Act. 

His efforts, which would cost about $300 billion, have gained support from liberal lawmakers and — reportedly — President Trump. 

"I'd be surprised if he didn't support $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples," Hawley said of the president on Tuesday. "My sense is that it's a very high priority."

So what does this mean for stimulus check 2?

Right now, it's hard to tell what might happen, partly because there's no real  Democratic position. 

The party's Congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York), have yet to put their weight behind a single proposal. They did call the $908 billion bipartisan bill a good "starting point" and expressed hope that stimulus check 2 could be added to it later. 

Prior to the election, Democratic leaders were pushing an approximately $2 trillion bill that included a $1,200 stimulus check and weekly $600 unemployment supplements. That's still where the Democrats officially stand

But Pelosi and Schumer may have been banking on a Democratic "blue wave" of voters that would give them control of the Senate and more seats in the House. That failed to materialize, and their position is weaker now than it was in October. 

Adding $1,200 to the new bipartisan bill would make its total cost about $1.2 trillion. But adding stimulus checks of just $600 would make the bill cost less than the $1.1 trillion bill the Senate GOP leadership proposed in July. 

Other than the cost of the bill, the key sticking points are the liability protections for businesses and the aid to state and local governments. Everyone seems to agree that another stimulus check would be a good thing if the cost were not too high.

Yesterday (Dec. 9) McConnell suggested that "we set those two controversial pieces aside and plow ahead with a huge pile of things that we agree on," presumably including stimulus check 2. We've yet to see how Democratic leaders will respond. 

Emily Long
Emily Long is a Utah-based freelance writer who covers tech, security, and personal finance. She has strong opinions on what passes for good coffee and would rather be hiking right now.