Odds of a second $1,200 stimulus check continue to fall

December 3, 2020, 10:31 PM UTC
For the latest information on the ongoing stimulus negotiations, please check out our coverage here.

For the millions of Americans waiting on another stimulus check this winter, the news isn’t good: Those $1,200 checks may not be coming.

On Tuesday, a group of bipartisan senators including Republican Mitt Romney and Democrat Joe Manchin announced a $908 billion stimulus proposal. The bill includes items like enhanced unemployment insurance and state funding, but it doesn’t include another round of $1,200 stimulus checks.

In a surprise move, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was open to the $908 billion package, saying it “should be used as the basis” for negotiations moving forward, despite her having argued firmly for a multi-trillion-dollar package for months. It also marks the first time Pelosi voiced support for a bill that didn’t include stimulus checks.

That means both Republican and Democratic leaders appear to be poised to back a package without checks—a notable shift considering both Pelosi and President Trump supported another round of checks while negotiating before the election.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has taken over for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as the chief negotiator in the talks, is still vying for a smaller bill without direct payments. The White House reaffirmed Thursday it is backing McConnell’s plan. And if any bill is going to pass this year, it’ll need McConnell’s approval.

McConnell passed around his version of the next stimulus package on Tuesday, but with a much lower price tag: Several hundred billion lower, in fact. Like the bipartisan bill, McConnell’s plan also wouldn’t include stimulus checks.

One reason stimulus checks are on the chopping block? Time is running out. Congress has until Dec. 11 to pass a spending bill to fund the government, and analysts and economists argue passing a “bridge” stimulus bill will be essential to helping the unemployed and small businesses survive until a vaccine can be widely distributed next year. Simply put: Democratic leaders so far appear willing to sacrifice some spending items in order to get more fiscally-conservative Senate Republicans on board and pass something this month.

Still, a December stimulus package doesn’t completely rule out another round of checks in 2021. If Democrats win both Senate seats heading for runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, they’d gain control of the Senate and have the power to push through another stimulus package—which could include direct payments. But if Republicans retain the Senate, chances for another stimulus check would likely be dead.

As Tom Porcelli, chief U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, recently told Fortune: “I think [more stimulus checks are] going to be a very hard sell. If you have a Republican Senate, I think that’s almost a nonstarter.”

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