Though the 2020 election results will undoubtedly change several aspects of Americans' lives over the next four years, the pandemic has people asking one urgent money question: Will President Donald Trump or Joe Biden get us closer to a second stimulus check?
More than six months have passed since the government first began issuing $1,200 economic impact payments to keep consumers financially afloat during the coronavirus outbreak. As the economy flounders, cases spike and layoffs continue, the need for additional aid has become clear. Only politics is standing in the way.
Nobody knows what's going to happen with the election this week, but a shakeup is possible — both in the Oval Office and in Congress. What might that do to the chances of a second stimulus check? Where does Nancy Pelosi stand? When would it all happen?
It's all speculation at this point, but here are a few potential election outcomes that could influence a second stimulus check. (Note: In all of these scenarios, we're assuming that Democrats keep control of the House of Representatives, as FiveThirtyEight has predicted they have a 92% to 97% chance of doing.)
If the election is called this week, and Trump is the winner, and the Senate stays red...
Trump said Oct. 27 that "after the election, we’ll get the best stimulus package you’ve ever seen." But for weeks, the two parties haven't been able to agree on the terms of a new stimulus bill.
They're squabbling over roughly $400 billion: The White House's most recent proposal is over $1.8 trillion, and the Democrats' is $2.2 trillion. (Making things even more confusing, Trump has suggested he "would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering.")
To pass new stimulus checks, a re-elected Trump would have to direct Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to compromise with Pelosi and convince the Mitch McConnell-led Senate to get on board. This is possible depending on their level of enthusiasm about the election results and preoccupation with other initiatives. (Less likely paths include Pelosi agreeing to a cheaper proposal or McConnell pitching a new "skinny" bill that's suddenly palatable to Democrats.)
McConnell told radio host Hugh Hewitt on Friday that legislation could take until 2021.
"We probably need to do another package, certainly more modest than the $3 trillion dollar Nancy Pelosi package. I think that’ll be something we’ll need to do right at the beginning of the year," he said. "We could target it particularly at small businesses that are struggling, and hospitals that are now dealing with the second wave of the coronavirus, and of course the challenges for education, both K-12 and college."
McConnell was speaking broadly about relief, though, and didn't mention stimulus checks by name.
If the election is called this week, and Trump is the winner, and the Senate flips to blue...
Say Meadows, Mnuchin and Pelosi hammer out a deal, maybe because they're feeling elated/upset that the election did/did not go their way, and McConnell is game.
Even if the Senate swings Democrat on Election Day, those lawmakers won't be sworn in until January. To get things moving before then, Trump would still have to convince Senate Republicans to get behind a proposal relatively quickly. The timeline is unclear, though MarketWatch reported that stimulus checks could be attached to a bigger bill concerning government funding due before Dec. 11.
MSNBC asked Pelosi specifically about whether there could be a deal "in a lame-duck session of Congress," and the speaker replied that "it depends on how much of a rehabilitation tour the Republicans want to take" after the election.
"I would hope that, again, on the rehabilitation tour, that they may want to do something. The sooner, the better," Pelosi said. "Certainly, we'll have something at the start of the new presidency, but we don't want to have to wait that long, because people have needs."
Note her use of the phrase "new presidency." That brings us to the next scenario.
If the election is called this week, and Biden is the winner, and the Senate flips to blue...
Biden has an Emergency Action Plan to Save the Economy on his campaign website. He characterizes the first round of $1,200 stimulus checks as "a good start" but insufficient in the long term. Though it vows to "provide for additional checks to families should conditions require," the plan does not give specific dollar amounts or details on eligibility.
(The proposal also calls for increasing Social Security monthly checks, forgiving $10,000 per borrower in student debt and expanding unemployment benefits.)
If Democrats support this, lawmakers could take the path of least resistance, waiting until everyone is sworn in in January to push a bill through a blue House and Senate. But that'd mean Americans wouldn't get a second round of stimulus checks for another couple of months — a crushing delay for the economy.
A lame-duck Trump could instruct Republican lawmakers to usher through a stimulus bill before his term is up in order to leave office on a positive note. Even assuming they're fine with that, House Democrats would still have to get on board with a compromise, which Fast Company points out doesn't seem likely if they're on track to hold all the cards in a few short weeks.
For her part, Pelosi has indicated she's going to stay the course. During an Oct. 29 news conference, the speaker said "we are not going to take a small bill that has the bulk of reinforcing funds to the richest people in America while questioning the integrity of people on unemployment insurance." She said she didn't intend to back a slimmed-down bill "like Mitch McConnell has."
"People are hungry. People are on the verge of eviction. People need money in their pocket," Pelosi said.
If the election is called this week, and Biden is the winner, and the Senate stays red...
Pelosi has said she wants a clean slate when Biden is inaugurated. But because Biden wouldn't be sworn in until January, the chances of a second stimulus check dropping before the new year still depend on Trump and the current Congress (like we explained above).
"The president’s words that ‘after the election, we will get the best stimulus package you have ever seen’ only have meaning if he can get Mitch McConnell to take his hand off the pause button and get Senate Republican chairmen moving toward agreement with their House counterparts," Pelosi wrote in a recent letter to Mnuchin.
Indeed, the Senate may get in the way. As it stands, about a dozen Republican senators would have to take the Democrats' side in order for a bill to pass sans filibuster — which Senate Majority Whip John Thune told Politico is unlikely. There's some disagreement as to whether Republican legislators would even support a Trump-approved stimulus bill because of its price tag.
McConnell, who also has a lot of power, is playing coy: Last week, he reportedly instructed the White House not to strike a stimulus deal before Election Day. He only vaguely committed to a vote, saying that "if a presidentially supported bill clears the House, at some point we’ll bring it to the floor."
All bets are off if Biden has been elected and the GOP's numbers have changed.
If the election isn't called this week, and it's contested...
The Intelligencer puts it more eloquently here, but basically it's a toss-up.
For what it's worth, the Senate comes back Nov. 9. The House returns Nov. 16.