For many Americans who haven’t lost jobs or don’t own businesses, the central feature of the CARES Act — passed in March to offset the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic — was the $1,200-per-person payments it authorized. Since the economic crisis has not gotten visibly better and the “reopening” of businesses is at most partial and perilous, there’s been talk (particularly among Democrats) of a second round of stimulus payments. Though some still haven’t received their first check, there is understandably considerable interest in whether the federal government might provide more relief to individuals. Here’s the situation as it stands, with Congress is back in session after a long Memorial Day break and a surprisingly positive May Jobs Report in the mix.
What Happened With the First Round of Stimulus Checks?
As my colleagues Eric Levitz and Adam K. Raymond explained,
the IRS (which Congress put in charge of the payments) was instructed to make approximately 150 million payments. The amounts varied depending on income and number of children in the household. Those earning up to $75,000 — or $150,000 for married couples — got the full check; partial payments were available to individuals earning up to $99,000 or couples earning $198,000. Parents received an additional $500 for each dependent child.
People who had already given the IRS direct-deposit bank information received the first payments; instead of a paper check, they got a direct deposit. It has been tougher for others, which is why some eligible people are still waiting on paper checks in the mail. As of mid-May, roughly 20 million eligible Americans were still waiting on their stimulus checks. The IRS now says the money has been sent out to over 150 million people but the checks – or in some cases, debit cards – have not yet entirely been received. If you are among those still waiting, hang tight, watch the mail and don’t throw away any plastic cards without looking at them.
What Are Democrats Proposing for a Second Round of Payments?
House Democrats proposed a similar second round of stimulus checks in the so-called Heroes Act they passed on May 13. The income thresholds and individual check amounts ($1,200) were the same, but the payment for dependent children was boosted from $500 to $1,200, up to a limit of three. So a two-parent family with three kids and income under $150,000 could receive total payments of $6,000 ($2,400 for the parents, $3,600 for the dependent children).
The bill doesn’t change the way the money is distributed, so it would be a good idea to go ahead and send the IRS banking information for a quick payment — at least when it becomes clear that a second check has been authorized.
How Did Republicans React?
Senate Republicans, who don’t want to give the impression that they have to negotiate over House Democratic proposals, have largely dismissed the Heroes Act as a “liberal wish list” or as a “political messaging bill” not seriously intended to go anywhere. But their criticisms have mostly focused on the overall price tag ($3 trillion), provisions for aid to state and local governments, and an extension of the $600 federal unemployment insurance add-on until the end of the year.
More generally, many congressional Republicans and conservative opinion leaders argue for a “pause” in stimulus efforts until the $2.2 trillion authorized by the CARES Act is fully distributed and states are given the opportunity to reopen businesses. They also are very focused on providing corporations with a liability shield against coronavirus-related lawsuits and damage claims. In line with the president’s shift toward demanding “reopening,” his supporters in and beyond Congress are beginning to think the easing of restrictions on businesses rather than federal stimulus is the key to economic recovery.
As senators returned to Washington after Memorial Day, Republicans in particular seemed to have soured on a second round of stimulus checks, as The Hill reported:
Republican lawmakers are voicing deep skepticism about passing another round of $1,200 rebate checks as they contemplate the next and possibly final stage of coronavirus relief legislation.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday said they are more focused on reforming the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, providing more money for cash-strapped state and local governments, boosting benefits for Social Security recipients and fixing other elements of COVID-19 relief bills passed earlier this year….
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said the prospect of Congress funding another round of rebate checks is “unlikely.”
And even Senate Democrats are growing cool to the idea of another non-targeted check:
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, said he wants the next round of coronavirus relief to be more focused on the households that have been hardest hit by the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic….
Cardin said the direct payments made more sense in March when Congress wanted to get money out the door as quickly as possible. But now, as states are allowing businesses to reopen around the country, he says lawmakers should look at who will most need relief in the coming months.
Still, of all the House Democratic proposals, payments to individuals seem to arouse a relatively lower negative reaction, certainly if compared to massive state and local government assistance or subsidized unemployment benefits. Republicans do appear resigned to having to pass another round of stimulus legislation, but are hoping for better economic news before determining its size and structure.
Where’s Trump on New Stimulus Efforts?
Trump and his staff have been less enthusiastic about stimulus checks than such Trumpian favorites as a payroll tax cut, but haven’t rejected it, either. In mid-May the president himself said “I think we are going to be helping people out,” and “getting some money for them.”
But more recently a more partisan atmosphere in Congress reflecting rising polarization over the George Floyd protests may have pushed Trump into a more confrontational posture on any kind of additional stimulus, as the Washington Post reports:
The bill passed by House Democrats last month included another and more generous round of stimulus payments, but that bill is going nowhere in the Republican-led Senate. Trump has instead said his priorities for the next bill are a payroll tax cut and a “liability shield” for employers, while his top economic officials have suggested further aid may not be necessary at all.
In a press conference hailing the jobs gains reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistic for May, Trump basically argued the economy was already recovering “like a rocketship,” though he did eventually say more stimulus might be necessary, mentioning his long-standing payroll tax cut idea as a starting-point. That Trump will be hearing from some Republicans that no other major stimulus is necessary is reflected by the views of presidential advisor Stephen Moore:
President Trump has told aides he is largely supportive of sending Americans another round of stimulus checks, expressing the belief that the payments will boost the economy and help his chances at reelection in November, according to three people aware of internal administration deliberations….
Internally, the president’s advisers and allies are split. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has advocated sending another round of checks, two people with knowledge of internal deliberations said…
Larry Kudlow, director of the White House National Economic Council, is skeptical of sending payments out to as many people who received them in the first round…. Kudlow said Tuesday the administration may want to send payments primarily to those who need them most, rather than the nearly 160 million Americans who received the first round.
It’s clear as mud, but if Trump keeps periodically promising people checks, they may simply have to happen.
What’s the Timetable For Negotiations To Take Place?
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he wants to develop a GOP position on additional stimulus efforts with the White House before any negotiations with Democrats take place, but obviously at some level a back-and-forth will develop once Republicans become satisfied they’ve trashed the Heroes Act enough. Best as we can tell, intra-GOP talks are beginning to take place now.
More immediately, McConnell decided to move separately on additional funding and better oversight of the small business-oriented Paycheck Protection Program, which the House also addressed in the Heroes Act. And he’s signaling that action on a broader package that might theoretically include stimulus checks won’t happen very quickly, according to the Washington Post on June 2:
McConnell said Friday that lawmakers would wait about a month before making a decision on going forward with a broader relief package, though he said Monday that the small-business aid would proceed very soon. Trump, in particular, has projected optimism about the economy “taking off like a rocket ship” — despite the public notes of caution of some of his senior economic advisers — as public health restrictions are relaxed.
Presidential economic advisor Larry Kudlow said on June 4 that negotiations probably would begin after the July 4 congressional recess.
Whether they move more quickly or slowly after that will likely depend on economic news as it happens, and whether it’s bad enough to convince the White House and congressional Republicans that they cannot count on business reopenings boosting the economy — or the president’s prospects for reelection — any time soon. The June jobs report released in early July could be crucial in determining the pace and scope of future stimulus.
A second variable is whether Republicans and Democrats generally stay focused on areas of agreement (potentially the second round of stimulus checks) or disagreement (again, Democratic demands for large-scale aid to state and local governments, Republican demands for corporate protections, and the red-hot dispute over the continuation and amount of subsidized unemployment benefits due to expire on July 31).
And a third factor is the overall climate for any sort of bipartisan action, which is currently being complicated by the the president’s law-and-order campaign against national protests that began with George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, and his general shift into campaign mode.
What’s the Likely Outcome?
Disagreements between the two parties over the size and shape of coronavirus stimulus legislation are sharp enough to slow down negotiations, once they begin. If you are counting on a second check, keep an eye on economic news. If unemployment rates continue to come down and general economic activity revives, pressure for new stimulus — particularly the individual payments that most people in both parties supported in the past — may dissipate. But partisan tensions over the unemployment benefits issue and aid to state and local government will continue. Without question, the odds of a second check have recently dropped, and the timetable for action is perceived in Washington as less urgent. So don’t take hopes of fresh help to the bank.