Outlook on Stimulus Remains Unclear

November 18, 2020

The Senate made its way back to Capitol Hill last week to begin the post-election lame duck legislative session and the House returned on November 16. However, the outlook for speedy passage of legislation to address the continuing economic and health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic remains dim as leaders in the two chambers continue to disagree over the size and scope of a relief package.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been discussing a package worth nearly $2 trillion, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had said the estimated $519 billion aid package Republicans introduced in September is sufficient. Speaker Pelosi’s public position, and that of President-elect Joe Biden, has been that negotiators should agree to the roughly $2.4 trillion package the House passed Oct. 1.

Speaker Pelosi and Sec. Mnuchin have been negotiating the contours of a potential agreement since this summer but have been unable to reach consensus on issues such as funding for state and local governments; liability protections to shield businesses, schools, and health care facilities from virus-related lawsuits; funds for a national tracking, testing, and tracing program; funding for schools and child care; expansions of the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit; and an extension of the federal supplement to state-level unemployment benefits.

Since talks are still stalled, many lawmakers have come forward calling for action. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) issued this statement, and the Chairman has been working to engage leadership and bipartisan taskforce (the four) on how to help small businesses before Congress adjourns before end of the year. The alternative is no help for small business owners until spring.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is also trying to put together a bipartisan proposal for a narrow COVID-19 aid bill in the lame-duck session that focuses on areas of common ground, like funding for vaccine relief and development, small businesses and unemployment insurance.

Senator Portman is focused on renewing an extra 13 weeks of unemployment benefits available to jobless workers whose regular state benefits, which typically last 26 weeks, have run out. That provision, as well as a new pandemic unemployment program providing benefits for freelancers and gig workers, was enacted in the $2 trillion March relief law but expires Dec. 31. He also cited the importance of another round of Paycheck Protection Program loans for small businesses, which expired in August. If eligible businesses spend the money mostly on payroll expenses, they qualify for loan forgiveness. “Obviously the PPP is really important to small businesses. Some of those businesses are being shut down by government edict again. We need to help them,” Portman said.