Stimulus package: $908 billion bill reveal set for Monday, but the fight is yet to come

A smaller stimulus bill has a chance of making it through before the end of 2020.

James Martin/CNET

By Monday evening, the bipartisan group of Senators that introduced a $908 billion proposal for emergency COVID-19 relief will have a fully fledged bill. Whether Congress will vote to pass it is another story.

“We’re going to introduce a bill tomorrow night,” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said Sunday on CNN State of the Union. “What Leader [Mitch] McConnell decides to do, I don’t have control over. I only can do what I can do.”

Democratic and Republican lawmakers worked through the weekend in an effort to nail down legal language for the COVID-19 rescue bill before the end of 2020. But they’re unlikely to face a warm welcome from either party after revealing the specific language in the plan. The deep divisions that have stymied a stimulus package since May took new forms last week, with both sides breaking ranks to voice their demands.

For example, the $908 billion proposal won’t include a second direct payment, which presents a steep hurdle among some lawmakers. Funding for state and local budgets, and debate over liability protection to keep businesses and institutions from being sued over COVID-19 transmission are other hot button issues that could delay or derail the bill. 

For the politically mixed group working on the package, now is the time to unify, not to dig in heels.

“We must act. It is irresponsible that we have not acted to date. It is absolutely a failure of the Congress,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Sunday on CNN Inside Politics. “We want to get aid out to people who are really, really struggling.”

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Next stimulus checks: What to expect


A coronavirus aid proposal before Jan. 1 is now considered emergency legislation to institute a safety net for expiring benefits that could leave tens of million of unemployed Americans without an income and millions of households facing eviction. A sweeping deal like the $2 trillion CARES Act from March, which authorized a $1,200 stimulus check for most Americans, is more likely to return to the table in early 2021, top US leaders have implied. 

“This relief package won’t be the total answer even if it gets passed, but it’s an important first step. There’s so much we have to do,” President-elect Joe Biden said Friday. With or without a bill, Biden has some executive actions at his disposal to push for more aid after he takes office Jan. 20.

“We’ve been meeting day and night for the last month. We were on a call all day yesterday. We’ll get on a call this afternoon to finish things up,” Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin said on Fox News Sunday . “There is no way, no way, that we are going to leave Washington without taking care of the emergency needs of our people. And that’s all of our country.”

It may not be that simple. The stimulus check argument is raring to surface again this week with renewed force.

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, are teaming up to amend the $908 billion proposal with another round of $1,200 payments, following the template set out in spring’s CARES Act. 

“If the Senate of the United States can find hundreds of billions of dollars to give to big government and big business, surely it can find some relief for working families and working individuals,” Hawley said Dec. 11.

In an effort to find middle ground, an alternate $918 billion package from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the White House proposed to send $600 checks to qualifying adults, plus an additional $600 for each qualified child dependent. However, the offer comes at the expense of $300 of federal unemployment aid per week for four months.

“If you’re send a stimulus check of $600 or whatever it may be — it was $1,200 before — you’re sending  it to people who still have a paycheck and still have a job. If you send a check to an unemployment person, you are sending to a person who has no lifeline — it’s done at the end of this month, they’ve got nothing,” Manchin said.


More stimulus money for the country and its citizens hangs in the balance.

Sarah Tew/CNET

On the Republican side, McConnell proposed several times this week that the bill should drop the two thorniest issues — funding for state and local programs and a liability shield to protect businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits — and instead pass a bill focusing on the areas of agreement. But McConnell’s opponents view the trade-off as a dealbreaker, arguing that state funding is necessary to help pay for firefighters and sanitation workers. 

Other lawmakers seem to be warming up to the idea of stripping out funding for the issue most likely to capsize talks in order to pass the emergency bill now, and pick up other measures after the new year.

Though Congress is hoping to wrap up its business next week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said if lawmakers don’t pass more aid by next Friday, Dec. 18, Congress could keep working through the end of the month. 

“We’ve been here after Christmas, you know. We were here five years ago,” Pelosi said Thusday during her weekly press conference. “People do want to get home for the holidays, such as that is. But what’s more important is that we get the job done for the American people before the holidays.”

Here’s what we know about where negotiations stand right now and what could happen before the end of the year.

Read moreWhat Biden could do for stimulus if another bill doesn’t pass

When could Congress pass a new emergency ‘stimulus’ bill?

Here are some possible scenarios that could play out over the coming weeks and months, depending on how negotiations settle in Washington.

When could a stimulus bill or package pass?

House votes Senate votes President signs
Dec 16 Dec 17 Dec 18
Feb 1, 2021 (after inauguration) Feb 2 Feb 3
Feb 16 (Feb 15 is President’s Day) Feb 16 Feb 16
March 15 March 16 March 17

Everything that could happen with a stimulus package now

If a stimulus bill is completed this year or before Jan. 20
: With an agreement made, the current House and Senate would vote before the new Congress is seated in early January. If outgoing President Donald Trump then signed the rescue bill into law, aid would likely begin to go out within weeks, with certain groups possibly receiving financial help before the end of 2020.

If negotiators agree on a stimulus deal, but it fails in either the House or Senate: In this situation, Democrats and Republicans could advance their own proposals that might pass in their majority chambers but fail (or fail to be considered) by the other. In this case, Congress might try again after Biden is sworn in as president.

A smaller bill could pass now and a larger one could happen later: It’s possible that a subset of programs would get funded before Biden becomes president — for example, unemployment aid, an extension of the eviction ban or even a second check, with the new Congress revisiting other programs after the inauguration. As the sitting president, Trump would need to sign any bill passed before Jan. 20 into law for it to take effect.


Stimulus negotiations are under incredible stress.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If talks once again fall apart until after Jan. 20: If partisan differences keep a bill from passing, it’s possible they’ll restart in some capacity after Biden’s inauguration in January. Here are some executive actions Biden could take immediately once president if a stimulus bill hasn’t passed by the time he’s sworn in.

If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here’s how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

The Democrats’ stimulus package from October still matters

On Oct. 1, the House of Representatives passed a revised Heroes Act that included a second stimulus check and additional benefits, such as enhanced unemployment benefits for tens of millions of Americans. The House bill, endorsed primarily by Democrats, was not expected to advance through the Republican-controlled Senate — and indeed did not.

Although it’s not law, this bill provides the talking points Pelosi was working with prior to the bipartisan proposal and might return to next year, if another stimulus proposal picks up steam after Biden’s inauguration. This revised Heroes Act has Biden’s support and could figure into future negotiations, depending on whether Georgia’s state runoff on Jan. 5 gives Democrats control of the Senate (Republicans currently maintain a two-seat lead).

What parts do Republicans and Democrats agree on?

Proposals from both sides have included the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses, enhanced unemployment insurance and another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements. Although not every benefit would make it into a smaller bill, if that were to pass first, these other relief measures are most likely to gain bipartisan support. The two sides also agree on more financial assistance for coronavirus testing and vaccine deployment.

Here are more details on the biggest points of contention between the White House, Republicans and Democrats.

For more information about stimulus checks, here’s how soon you might get your second stimulus check now, what you should do to speed up the delivery of a potential second check, and what to know about the HEALS, CARES and Heroes stimulus bill proposals that could help inform a final package.

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