As warring congressional leaders play chicken with the nation’s fifth round of coronavirus-related relief, the only apparent certainty is a second stimulus check will, eventually, find their way into America’s bank accounts.
In a perfect world, the (Republican) Senate and (Democratic) House of Representatives would realize the economic urgency of the moment and work out their differences quickly so Americans could celebrate Labor Day (Sept. 7) with a $1,200 direct payment from the federal government.
Politics, however, is not a perfect world. Just now, the only thing remotely close to a motivation for the two sides to reach an agreement is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) promise that he’s sending the Senate home for vacation on August 7. With, or without another COVID-19 relief bill passed.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sounded glum about matters Thursday: “I’m not very optimistic that we will have any kind of an agreement on a comprehensive bill in the near future,” he said.
Competing proposals from the House and Senate are roughly $2 trillion apart. Making matters more complicated, approximately 20 Senate GOP debt and deficit hawks are holding back support for any fresh spending.
“We don’t have an agreement on anything,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters following a meeting with top the Capitol Hill Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Meanwhile, President Trump advocated a payment “way higher” than the $1,200 advertised by both houses of Congress. “I’d like to see it be very high because I love the people,” Trump told Midland, Texas, ABC affiliate KMID-TV Wednesday. “I want the people to get it.”
The president did not affix a specific number to “way higher.”
Until we hear otherwise, then, the operative number for most stimulus-payment recipients remains $1,200. The Senate HEALS Act follows qualifications virtually identical to the first relief check. The House HEROES Act, while sticking generally to the $1,200 payment, proposes a significantly larger pool of recipients.
To refresh: Individuals who last reported earning adjusted gross income of up to $75,000, and couples earning up to $150,000, would receive full $1,200 or $2,400, respectively. Higher earners will see checks whittled $5 for every $100 above the benchmark; payments shrink to zero at $99,000 and $198,000.
New this time from the Senate: Families with dependents over the age of 17 will receive the extra $500 denied them in the initial round of payments — no doubt because Congress earned an earful about the COVID-related expenses of college-age kids back home from the dorm.
It’s unclear how many dependents the GOP package would allow, but they were bid up in May in the House package: Families would receive up to $1,200 per dependent — age irrelevant — capped at three.
To compare, the HEALS Act would pay a family of five up to $3,900, the HEROES Act up to $6,000.
When Will They Vote on the Second Stimulus Check?
Whichever arrangement prevails (or some hybrid), it must pass both chambers and get signed by the president. That’s Civics 101.
When is that likely to happen? Not until next week at the earliest; deadlocked in their caucus and finding Democrats unmovable, Senate Republicans declared it a weekend Thursday afternoon.
“They won’t engage, period,” McConnell said Thursday. “The Democrats are saying, ‘My way or the highway.’ ”
Countered Schumer, “We’re trying to negotiate. Who’s holding things up?”
Democrats may sense they have a stronger hand. A government report released Thursday morning showed the U.S. economy plunging at a record 32.9% annual rate in the second quarter. And recent applications for unemployment benefits have begun creeping higher.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged unified purpose: “This jarring news should compel Congress to move swiftly to provide targeted and temporary assistance to unemployed Americans, employers, in state and local governments, and liability protections for businesses who follow public health guidelines,” said Neil Bradley, the group’s executive vice president.
Two considerations overhang the outcome of stalled bargaining. The Senate is scheduled to leave on its traditional late-summer recess August 8. And there’s an autumn election season looming.
It’s hard to imagine Republican Senators hoping to hold their majority beyond November 3 would leave Americans in a lurch for a long, hot month. But McConnell’s hardcore 20 may have it in their heads that if they’re going to vote like Democrats, what’s the point?
When Will the IRS Release the Second Stimulus Checks?
The IRS — the agency charged with issuing stimulus payments — understandably stumbled slightly out of the gate when the first round passed as part of the emergency CARES Act. Such an undertaking was unprecedented. Finding its footing, by early June, the IRS had distributed nearly 160 million payments.
“Since the IRS has already assembled the data it needs to deliver the first-stimulus payment,” former Office of Management and Budget official Jack Smalligan told the Wall Street Journal, “they should be able to deliver a second payment fairly quickly and at a lower administrative cost.”
With its Get My Payment system (for registering for direct deposit and tracking your check) already tried and proven, the process should be far smoother this time — once Washington has appropriated the money.
What’s the timeline?
Payments by Direct Deposit
Direct deposits could start arriving within a couple of weeks after the final legislation becomes law. Direct deposit is by far the fastest and easiest way to receive stimulus money, and the White House is eager to see it arrive.
“The president’s preference,” Mnuchin told CNBC Thursday, “is to make sure the we send out direct payments quickly so that in August, people get more money.”
Payments by Mail
Paper checks will take somewhat longer than direct deposit, as they did in the first go-around. However, if a package is settled by August 7, mailed payments should begin to land well before Labor Day (September 7).
Again, however, nothing happens unless Congress compromises and the White House signs off. Until then, it’s all just speculation … with our economic ravine approaching in a hurry.