What happens if the stimulus package doesn't pass? Here's what Biden could do

If there's no bill before President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20, he has a few available moves.

Clifford Colby Managing Editor
Clifford is a managing editor at CNET, where he leads How-To coverage. He spent a handful of years at Peachpit Press, editing books on everything from the first iPhone to Python. He also worked at a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWEEK and MacUser. Unrelated, he roots for the Oakland A's.
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Clifford Colby
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How much aid could President-elect Joe Biden provide through executive orders?

CNET Staff

When it comes to the highly contentious stimulus bill still under debate among the nation's top leaders, the best-case scenario is that, after eight months of negotiations ping pong, a stimulus package passes in the 18 days before New Years Eve. If a deal completely falls through before President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, the incoming president has a few tools at his disposal to address a few of the nation's most pressing needs.

While Biden won't have the authority to pass new laws on the federal budget, like authorizing a second stimulus check and larger unemployment checks, in limited circumstances, the sitting president could use an executive order or memo to create temporary rules. This is what Biden could do in a worst-case scenario, as President Donald Trump did in August, while waiting for Congress to work out a larger package.

(Here's more on our earliest glimpse of Biden's stimulus plan, which could include a second $1,200 check. Here's why we think a stimulus check could still come.)

Stick around for what kind of stimulus Biden could bring through executive orders alone if no stimulus bill passes. For more on another round of direct payments, here's how to work out your place in line for a second stimulus check, how much money it could bring to your specific household, and how the qualifications could change in another round. This story was recently updated.

Watch this: Next stimulus checks: What to expect

Biden could temporarily renew extra unemployment benefits

Biden has outlined in his own economic stimulus plan an expansion of the weekly unemployment bonus authorized under the CARES Act. Trump in August signed an order extending unemployment benefits past a July 31 expiration, at a lower weekly level. Because the power to spend rests with Congress and not the President, Biden would need to find a funding source for the aid, much as Trump did in August when he tapped unused FEMA money for his extension.

(Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin closed off another source of funding for Biden's potential executive action that had been available to the Federal Reserve to use emergency lending when he requested the Fed return to the Treasury unused funds from the program.)

Raise the minimum wage, beginning with federal contractors

During Biden's campaign, the incoming president talked about raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the current $7.25 an hour. Without Congressional support, Biden will not be able to raise the federal minimum wage, but he could get part way there through an increase to the minimum wage of workers on federal contracts.

Biden could accomplish the increase through an executive order, according to Heidi Shierholz, a senior economist and the director of policy at the Economic Policy Institute. The hourly boost could affect the pay of 5 million workers, Shierholz estimated.


President-elect Joe Biden could look at extending unemployment aid.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Suspend student loan payments, without interest

With a deferment for student-loan repayments set to expire Dec. 31 along with the last remaining COVID-19 relief protections, Biden could follow in the steps Trump took last summer and extend the deferral into 2021. That means students could postpone making loan repayments until further into 2021.

Along with a short-term fix, Biden could also look at forgiving student loans, based on a plan he outlined in his Emergency Action Plan to Save the Economy, where he proposed cancelling a minimum of $10,000 for federal student loans. 

Halt evictions on unpaid rent

If Congress doesn't put a hold on evictions before the moratorium Trump enacted runs out on Dec. 31, Biden can also use an executive order to keep landlords from evicting their tenants for not paying rent during the pandemic. Tenants could still be evicted for other reasons.

The precedent set by Trump's administration was to invoke a rare law exercised by the Centers for Disease Control aimed at limiting the spread of disease by keeping people in their homes and out of homeless shelters or from crossing state lines.

Some of what Biden will be able to quickly accomplish will depend on the Georgia Senate runoffs, which could potentially give Democrats a slim control of the Senate if both Democratic challengers win. 

With the inauguration less than two month away, here's what we know about Biden's plans to support the economyfive federal benefits that run out in December unless Congress acts, and where things stand on negotiating another economic rescue bill.