Congressional lawmakers appear to have thrown in the towel on efforts to help boost the ailing United States economy through a second stimulus package — that is, until after Election Day.
After confirming Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, Senate leaders left the Capitol yesterday on a break, which means that it is now practically impossible that a stimulus deal will be passed by Nov. 3. The departure follows a three-month period of negotiations between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who were unable to secure a second package to provide financial aid to American individuals, businesses and states amid the pandemic.
At the end of September, President Donald Trump signed into law a short-term spending bill, which extends current funding levels and keeps the government open through Dec. 11. That left coronavirus-related relief as the only major legislative goal on Congress’ plate ahead of the election.
However, Democrats and Republicans have remained split over issues including the dollar amount of unemployment benefits and protections for small businesses, as well as funding for states and cities plus money for coronavirus testing. Both parties have said that they favor providing another round of direct payments to individuals and families, as well as continuing additional unemployment benefits, though they have differed significantly on amounts.
The Senate is scheduled to be back in session on Nov. 9 — a week after the election — while House members are not slated to return until Nov. 16. When they settle back in at the Capitol, policymakers face a deadline of Dec. 11 to reach agreement on another stopgap funding bill to keep the government open. Separately, any stimulus proposal would likely get a vote during a lame-duck session, as some members who return to their chambers following the election will not be in the next Congress.
Without action to extend temporary relief, millions of unemployed Americans could lose their jobless benefits at the end of the year: The federal programs that provide benefits to gig workers and the self-employed as well as additional aid to workers who have exhausted their state benefits will expire after December. According to the Labor Department, roughly 13.5 million people — or more than half of the 23 million people who received unemployment benefits in the week ended Oct. 3 (the most recent data available for this metric) — are currently taking advantage of these two programs.
What’s more, the U.S. is seeing a surge in the number of new COVID-19 infections, which could lead to renewed lockdowns that force the closures of nonessential businesses and subsequently bring about layoffs or furloughs. The imminent arrival of the cooler months, coupled with the flu season, have also worried investors and economists, who predict that businesses could start indefinitely or permanently closing in droves.