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It's over: $2,000 second stimulus check won't replace $600 payment. What next?

The Senate didn't vote to increase the size of the payment to $2,000. Will there be another chance soon? Here's what to know.

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The amount of the second stimulus check will stay just as it is, with a $600 ceiling. But January could provide another chance.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The second stimulus check for a maximum of $2,000 per qualified adult isn't happening -- at least not before the new session of Congress is sworn in Sunday. Despite last-ditch efforts by President Donald Trump, House Democrats and a few outspoken Republicans to push through a change that would've raised the $600 ceiling to $2,000, the Senate didn't pick up a vote on either of two bills that might've given the higher rate a chance. Neither bill was expected to garner enough support from both chambers to override the $600 cap.

So where does that leave your second stimulus check today, and what does it mean for a third stimulus check, which President-elect Joe Biden has already said he supports?

As with everything related to stimulus checks, it's complicated. We'll do our best to break down the biggest takeaways you should know about and why the next three weeks could hold the key to yet another stimulus bill, one with a third stimulus check that's larger than the current $600 per person ceiling.

$600 stimulus payments are going out now through Jan. 15

Since the $900 billion stimulus bill that includes the second stimulus check won't be altered, the IRS and US Treasury will continue to deliver new payments through direct deposit, physical checks and EIP cards. Here's how to calculate your estimated total. Importantly, the bill includes a Jan. 15 cutoff, after which no more payments will be sent. Instead, you'll have to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit to claim your check.

Fate of two Senate seats could set the tone for a $2,000 third check

There's clearly support for a $2,000 check from all corners of the government, but as usual, politics are heavily involved. The results of a Georgia runoff election on Jan. 5 will determine which party controls the Senate, and a variety of important committees. That's expected to set the pace for more stimulus aid in 2021. 

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If Republicans win one of the two contested seats, they'll maintain Senate dominance, and they're forecast to reel in spending and stymie Biden's agenda to pass a much larger stimulus bill. If Democrats win both seats, then they'll win the Senate by a razor-thin margin, increasing the chances of pushing through objectives like a larger check, more federal unemployment checks and funding for vaccine distribution.

A larger stimulus check amount has been picking up support on the Republican side, with Sens. David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler -- who are both on the ballot in the Georgia runoff election -- reversing their previous positions and now tweeting their new support for $2,000 checks.

The House of Representatives passed the CASH Act (PDF) on Dec. 28 to authorize a $2,000 second stimulus payment for every qualifying adult and dependent, but it hasn't been picked up for a vote in the Senate

Biden has teed up a third stimulus check and new bill

Many in Washington see the current $900 billion stimulus bill as a precursor to a larger relief package in 2021 that would expand and include provisions that Republicans and Democrats agreed to leave out this round to pass the critical deal.

"This bill is just the first step, a down payment, in addressing the crisis -- crises, more than one -- that we're in," Biden said on Dec. 22, emphasizing that he'd like to see a third stimulus check. Again, whether there'll be a larger bill or a smaller one, and if it happens quickly or slowly, could hinge on the outcome of Georgia's Senate runoff.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Could the increase to a $2,000 check still happen before Biden takes office?

There's a theoretical chance that the new Congress could bring up a bill to increase the $600 second stimulus check to $2,000, during Trump's final days in office -- with the IRS and US Treasury making the adjustments after the fact. 

That's unlikely for several reasons:

  • On Jan. 3, the incoming Congress is sworn in.
  • Results from the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff could take days or even weeks to count. 
  • The Jan. 6 confirmation of Biden's presidency through electoral vote is expected to be the next political battleground, drawing focus.
  • The Jan. 15 IRS cutoff means any bill passed after that date would cause the IRS and Treasury to create a new process sending out the payment difference.
  • The new Congress may be unlikely to usher in a new bill days before a presidential switch.

Why didn't the December bill include a $1,200 or $2,000 second stimulus check?

A second stimulus check has had wide bipartisan support ever since the CARES Act passed. Over the last several months, everyone from Trump and Biden to members of Congress, economists and everyday people have advocated for another direct payment.

Trump has previously called for "more money than they're talking about" in stimulus checks, as large as $1,200 or $2,000 per person. Aides reportedly convinced him at the time that making such demands would jeopardize a stimulus bill, The Washington Post reported, and the White House offer was officially extended at $600 tops.

Though many favor a $1,200 direct payment in theory, a second, smaller stimulus check has helped keep costs below the $1 trillion cutoff that Republican lawmakers have in the past said they'd support. 

Stimulus checks aren't cheap. The IRS said this summer that it had spent $270 billion sending out 160 million checks, and on Dec. 15, Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican involved in crafting the bipartisan stimulus proposal, forecast a cost of $300 billion if the checks were once again included for $1,200 per person. Republicans reportedly bridled at the cost.

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 how the new stimulus bill compares to March's CARES Act.