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Stimulus negotiation make-or-break moment: What today's Senate vote, deadline mean for pre-election bill

What happens to stimulus negotiations by the end of Tuesday could be a make-or-break moment for stimulus checks, with 14 days before the election.

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Is the stimulus package in trouble? Here's the latest.

Angela Lang/CNET

By the end of Tuesday, the state of stimulus negotiations will reach a moment of truth that will see Democratic and Republican lawmakers collide. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given White House negotiators until the day's end to finalize language on a stimulus offer that is now estimated to be $2.4 trillion, rather than the $1.8 trillion starting point on Oct. 9. President Donald Trump has said he wanted a higher number than the Democrats' preferred $2.2 trillion proposal.

"I don't want to carry over the droppings of this grotesque elephant into the next presidency," Pelosi said Monday in a private call with Democrats, The New York Times reported. "We've got to get something big, and we've got to get it done soon and we've got to get it done right."

Also today, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will lead the Senate in a vote on a $500 billion stand-alone bill to extend the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan for businesses to help retain employees during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday, the Senate will vote on last month's $500 billion "skinny" bill that Democrats blocked.  

Both of the day's actions -- the deadline and the vote -- represent the enormous gulf in approaches to stimulus aid that see Trump, who has expressed urgent support for passing a stimulus bill before the Nov. 3 election in 14 days, facing growing discord from within his party. 

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Senate Republicans have sharply criticized the White House package, which includes a second stimulus check in addition to other aid. And in voting for much more limited bills, GOP legislators are clearly rejecting Trump's position. It's the latest evidence that GOP senators could break with Trump, perhaps fearing for their personal reelection chances and the resulting political "bloodbath" if the election results hand Democrats control over both chambers of Congress and the presidency. 

The Senate's decision on this week's bills will be telling. Even if a sweeping COVID-19 relief bill is completed and passes the House, there's no guarantee the Senate would vote in its favor -- or even pick up the vote at all.

McConnell conceded on Saturday that "the Senate would of course consider it," The Washington Post reported, but he did not commit to a vote.

Trump has downplayed his concern about a Republican pushback over the last week, most recently saying on Fox News he "will take care of that problem in two minutes" if the Senate opposes the bill. "If I had something that would be good, I think I could quickly convince the Republicans to do it." That remains in doubt.

What happens if a bill doesn't pass before the election and how could it affect Americans and the economy? Here's what we know. We update this story with new information when it's available.

Will the Senate's stand-alone or 'skinny' bills become law?

We'll know later today if the stand-alone PPP bill will pass the Senate, and on Wednesday we'll also know the fate of the "skinny bill," which includes enhanced unemployment aid for $300 extra per week. The latter is a revote on a package that failed to advance in the Senate in September and was blocked by Democrats

A narrow Senate bill is unlikely to pass in the House of Representatives, whose leader, Pelosi, has consistently rejected a stand-alone bill that is not tied to a larger aid package. Some Democratic lawmakers, however, have pushed for Pelosi to take a deal now rather than no deal.

Analysts consider the Senate's bills a way to publicly demonstrate to voters that they're taking coronavirus relief seriously, ahead of an election that could cause the Senate to lose its Republican majority.

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Democrats and Republicans have disagreed on how much relief aid should be included in the stimulus package. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

What if a COVID relief bill doesn't pass before Nov. 3? 

At this point, there's still a possibility that a new stimulus aid package will pass, though the uncertainties are many. Here are some ways events could play out.

A White House offer is finalized in time and passes: In this best-case scenario, a bill passes both chambers of Congress and is signed into law before Nov. 3. Stimulus checks and other aid would likely begin to go out within weeks.

A White House offer is finalized and fails in the Senate: In this situation, the House could either attempt to pick up the Senate bills, if they pass that chamber, or wait until after the election -- and potentially after the Jan. 20 inauguration -- to revisit stimulus aid, potentially setting back the clock by months.

A White House offer is not finalized in time and talks continue: This scenario is much like above, and would effectively stall a bill earlier than the previous scenario. It's likely that the House would then use this bill as a starting point to push the bill through faster once negotiations revive post-election. 

Senate bills pass and the House passes as a last-ditch effort: In the event that the Senate's narrow stimulus bills pass that chamber, the House would have the option to take them up. If they passed, Trump would be able to sign them into law or veto them. It would be likely that Congress would take up another stimulus package after the election regardless. 

Talks stop until after the election results are in: If talks don't yield an actionable bill, negotiations could limp along or stop altogether. However, it's likely they'll restart in some capacity immediately after the election and leading into January. It's been speculated that if Trump loses the election and if the Senate loses its majority, there will be little incentive to pass a sweeping package until 2021 during the transition.

To help visualize when a bill could pass, we've speculated and come up with five possible dates, both before and after the November election. If a bill does pass that includes a direct payment, here's how quickly we think the IRS could send a second stimulus check.

When could a stand-alone stimulus bill or package pass?

House votes Senate votes President signs
Oct. 26
Oct. 27 Oct. 28
Nov. 9 Nov. 10 Nov. 11
Nov. 16 Nov. 17 Nov. 18
Nov. 23 Nov. 24 Nov. 25
Feb. 1, 2021 Feb. 2, 2021 Feb. 3, 2021

What happened to the House's new stimulus bill?

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

According to Pelosi, the vote on the revised Heroes bill was independent of ongoing negotiations with Mnuchin. 

The vote was thought to provide cover for House Democrats as they campaign without a new relief bill, much as the Senate did earlier in September for Republican members with its $650 billion skinny bill. Like the skinny Senate bill, this new House proposal has little chance of advancing in the other chamber.

What aid do Republicans and Democrats agree on?

Proposals from both sides have included another stimulus payment of up to $1,200 for individuals who meet the requirements, among topics like aid for airlines, enhanced unemployment insurance and extending the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses. Although the Senate's targeted bills do not include stimulus checks, in the past, Republicans (including those in the Senate) have supported them. Here are more details on what the Senate bill supports compared to the current package under negotiation and the most recent bill passed by the House.

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