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Waiting to pass stimulus until after the election is a mistake, says economist Mark Zandi

October 13, 2020, 4:13 PM UTC

On Friday, the White House offered up a stimulus plan of $1.8 trillion, or $400 billion shy of the $2.2 trillion Democratic leaders are seeking. The two parties are numerically the closest they’ve been since they started discussing the package in July—when Democratic leaders were asking for $3.4 trillion and the White House was under $1 trillion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly rejected the White House’s $1.8 trillion offer, saying it didn’t do enough to eradicate the virus. And Republican Senators like Rick Scott and Marsha Blackburn rejected the idea of passing a stimulus package of that size.

Even as stimulus talks continue on Capitol Hill the odds of passing another economic aid package are looking bleaker by the day. President Donald Trump’s latest stimulus reversal and push reads more like election desperation than progress. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week a stimulus package is unlikely to pass the Senate before the election, and could be preparing for a political divorce from Trump—who is falling in the polls. Meanwhile Democratic leaders might be stringing the White House along and waiting to pass a more generous package with a President Joe Biden.

What’s at stake? The finances of millions of small businesses owners, state government employees, and jobless Americans. Not to mention the economy.

“The economic recovery is already slowing. Without additional support it threatens to stall out or even backslide,” Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Fortune on Monday.

The bigger the stimulus, the better. But Zandi would prefer Democratic leaders pass the $1.8 trillion the White House is offering, rather than risk waiting for a bigger bill after the election or inauguration. Even if Biden wins, Zandi says, there is no guarantee they’d be able to pass what they want.

“Not passing a package now is a significant error. They [Congress] are taking a really big chance,” Zandi says. “Passing a $1.8 trillion package now doesn’t preclude a package in February. [Democrats could] take the $1.8 trillion and come back after the inauguration and see where the economy is, and then pass another package.”

While FiveThirtyEight only gives Trump a 13% chance of winning, it gives the GOP a 31% chance of retaining the Senate chamber. If Republicans still control the Senate, Zandi says, Biden would struggle to pass a robust stimulus package.

Zandi says the consensus is that if the federal government doesn’t pass more stimulus before the election, it’s very unlikely anything gets done before the inauguration.

The $600 enhanced unemployment benefits—part of the $2.2 trillion CARES Act—expired in July. And hiring (or really rehiring) is slowing: U.S. employment rose by 661,000 in September, down from 1.5 million jobs added in August and 1.8 million added in July. There are still 12.5 million unemployed Americans.

While the two parties disagree on the dollar size of the next stimulus package, they do agree on lots of the spending areas. Both parties reaffirmed support this week for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks for adults and $500 for dependents. Both parties also support more funding for education, coronavirus-related projects, mortgage and rental assistance, food programs, and state and local government funding.