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Stimulus package: Will a deal get done before 2020 ends? Congress preps for final sprint

Congress is back on Monday, with COVID-19 relief at the top of its agenda. Here's what's happening.

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Will a political divide keep interfering with stimulus negotiations?

Sarah Tew/CNET

In two days, Congress returns to Washington with an overstuffed agenda and little time to craft proposals and laws before the end of 2020. The two most urgent: funding the government past Dec. 11 to avoid a costly shutdown and more COVID relief aid, particularly since the final remaining protections evaporate by Dec. 31. A new stimulus package has eluded warring lawmakers since May.

The House of Representatives has nine official in-session days and the Senate 14 days before both chambers break for the new year. With less than a month to debate, draft and vote on a new stimulus package, however, Congress is expected to work overtime, including weekends, in the effort to close a deal of some sort.

Read more: Sorry, you could get less money in a second stimulus check

After the last votes on Dec. 4, for example, House members "are encouraged to remain in Washington," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Friday. "As conversations surrounding legislation related to government funding, coronavirus relief and NDAA are ongoing, these bills will be considered by the House as soon as they are ready."

The Senate and House leaders can recall members at any time for a special vote.

The next wave of economic relief aimed at individuals and the economy could include a second stimulus check, extra unemployment money for job-seekers and crucial funding for small businesses.

Sharpening the urgency of approving more aid, current forecasts predict that the US could see a total of 294,000 to 321,000 COVID-19 deaths reported by Dec. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Nov. 25. In the US, over 263,000 people have lost their lives as a result of the coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. That's potentially up to an 18% increase in COVID-19 deaths in 22 days, following the mathematical model. On Wednesday, the country recorded over 181,000 new cases and nearly 3,000 deaths from the disease. 

Now playing: Watch this: Next stimulus checks: What to expect
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In addition to loss of life, the number of Americans who can't afford food is skyrocketing, and job loss is up. In the US, 20 million renters are at risk of losing their homes after eviction protections end Dec. 31, according to The Aspen Institute.

"If something doesn't get done in DC, I think we're just going to see another wave of need and increased demand for food," said Los Angeles Regional Food Bank CEO Michael Flood, according to CNBC.

Read more: What Biden could do for stimulus if another bill doesn't pass

Without another cash infusion into economic relief programs, the final protections dry up in a little over a month, leaving tens of millions of Americans without a safety net as the pandemic continues with renewed force.

"The pandemic is raging, and it's starting to do damage again," Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody's Analytics, told The New York Times this week, predicting that the economy will contract in the first half of 2021 without more stimulus.

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

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Time is running out to get a stimulus bill passed before the end of 2020.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Could a stopgap bill go through?

In the eight months since the CARES Act passed in March, the two sides have held fast to their respective positions, Democrats favoring a large bill with a second stimulus check and Republicans embracing a smaller relief package as a stopgap until the first mass coronavirus vaccines are administered in mid-2021. (Here's what could happen if a new bill passes with no stimulus check.)

As a result, there is more pressure for President-elect Joe Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to support a smaller stimulus package than the $2.2 trillion Heroes Act that Democrats have backed since May. This bill would include a second direct payment for qualified adults and more money for dependents, plus enhanced unemployment benefits and funding for more programs besides. The idea behind the strategy shift would be to get some aid through before Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration and try to pass a larger bill after he takes office. 

On Nov. 23, a transition insider denied the claim that Biden's transition team reportedly urged Democratic leaders in Congress to strike a deal now, according to a tweet from Washington Post reporter Jeff Stein.

How quickly could a new stimulus package pass?

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

When could a stimulus bill or package pass?

House votes Senate votes President signs
Dec 9 Dec 10 Dec 11
Feb 1, 2021 (after inauguration) Feb 2 Feb 3
Feb 16 (Feb 15 is President's Day) Feb 16 Feb 16
Mar 15 Mar 16 Mar 17


A stimulus bill is completed before Jan. 20
: An agreement is made, and the current House and Senate vote before the new Congress is seated in January. If President Donald Trump signs the rescue bill into law, stimulus checks and other aid would likely begin to go out within weeks, with certain groups receiving financial help before the end of 2020.

Negotiators agree on a stimulus deal but it fails in either the Senate or House: 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.

Some funding could be included in a bill that also funds the government past Dec. 11: It's possible that one piece of funding -- for example a stimulus check, unemployment aid or an extension of the eviction stay -- could make it into a bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 11 and avoid a shutdown. As sitting president, Trump would need to sign the bill into law for it to take effect.

Read more: Want your second stimulus check faster? Do this now

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

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

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Stimulus negotiations are under incredible stress.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Why the House's $2.2 trillion stimulus package 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 has not.

It provides the framework Pelosi is working from, however, has the support of Biden and could figure into future negotiations, depending on election results that could potentially shift the balance one way or another.

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. Following the vote, McConnell and Senate Republicans have shifted their support to a smaller $500 million proposal.

Biden on Nov. 16 called on Congress to pass the revised Heroes Act now.

Which programs 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 (although the Senate's $500 billion bill does not include a second check, aid for airlines, enhanced unemployment insurance and extending the Paycheck Protection Program for businesses). The two sides also agree on more financial assistance for coronavirus testing and vaccine deployment.

Although the Senate's targeted bills, which did not advance, did not include stimulus checks, Republicans (including those in the Senate) have supported them. 

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