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Stimulus check 2 may not come until Trump leaves White House

Former Vice President Joe Biden during an appearance at the Democratic Wing Ding in Iowa.
(Image credit: Pix_Arena/Shutterstock)

With just a few working weeks left before the end of the year and a still-divided House and Senate, the odds of stimulus check 2 passing during Congress' lame-duck session are quickly dimming.

Before Election Day, lawmakers suggested that negotiations could continue in earnest once the votes had been counted. Some continued to express that hope even after Nov. 3. But top negotiators on both sides are now showing no signs of conceding on their priorities — and the House of Representatives and Senate are scheduled to recess for the holidays on Dec. 10 and Dec. 18, respectively.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) has been pushing an approximately $2 trillion deal, which included a second $1,200 stimulus check. 

The Trump administration was coming closer to consensus with Pelosi after months of negotiations, although questions remained about aid to state and local governments and liability protections for businesses, among other measures. 

The Senate, meanwhile, despite failing to advance two pared-down "skinny" stimulus bills of its own, is continuing to push for much less spending if lawmakers take up any proposals. 

"I don't think the current situation demands a multi-trillion-dollar package, so I think it should be highly targeted," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on Tuesday, according to USA Today

What's the hold-up?

The Associated Press reports that the White House seems resistant to continuing to negotiate on behalf of the GOP, which until now had been represented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and has passed the baton to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

"With no disrespect to Secretary Mnuchin ... I do think that it’s better if the members negotiate with members," Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) told the AP, referring to members of Congress. "I'm glad to see [McConnell's] decision that he's going to step up and do our negotiating, and try to put a bill on the president's desk that the president can sign."

With limited time left in 2020, a lame-duck session, President Trump's refusal to concede, and the more immediate need to pass funding legislation by Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers seem unlikely to agree on stimulus package priorities soon. 

As Sen. John Kennedy (R-Louisiana) said earlier this week on voting for a bill reflecting Democrats' priorities, "I don't think most Republicans will."

That's despite the fact many economists and business leaders saying a large stimulus bill is necessary to get the country moving forward again economically.

"Our nation must rally around the common cause of recovery. On this, there can be no division," said the head of the generally pro-Republican U.S. Chamber of Commerce, according to AL.com. "Job number one must be pandemic relief. American small businesses cannot afford for Congress to wait another three months to act."

Biden's stimulus-proposal options

It's also not clear exactly how the Biden administration will move forward on stimulus relief. Initial transition plans suggest that the president-elect will push for priorities House Democrats have included in their past spending bills, such as aid to state and local governments and additional unemployment benefits. 

Even if Biden pushes for most or all of what Pelosi wants, he'll have to get it through what's likely to be a GOP-led Senate. If Democrats win both Senate seats from Georgia in runoff elections set to take place in early January, then the chamber will be tied. 

The tiebreaker will be the vice president —  Mike Pence until Biden is inaugurated, Kamala Harris after that. After Jan. 20, Biden could have a freer hand.

But it's more likely that the GOP will hold one or both Georgia seats, and that McConnell remains Majority Leader. If so, Biden will have to leverage the personal relationship he forged with McConnell during Biden's Senate tenure and vice-presidency. 

"It will be the first test for Biden," a Republican strategist told USA Today. "It's an opportunity for him to come out of the gates and show whether he can govern ... in a more positive and bipartisan way than we've seen over the last four years."