A pedestrian walks near the U.S. Capitol building surrounded by fog in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020.
Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images
As Americans cast their votes on Election Day, millions are still waiting for financial relief from a coronavirus stimulus package that is still up in the air.
When more financial help will come together — and just how much that total package could be — will be influenced by the outcome of Tuesday’s ballots.
Depending on the results, new leadership could step in. That could bring new participants to talks that have thus far that have predominantly included Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
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It also could change the tone on Capitol Hill after months of negotiations have resulted in a stimulus standoff.
“A package has always been seen as being there, if there is the political will,” said Ed Mills, Washington policy analyst at Raymond James. “So far, there has not been the political will on a bipartisan basis to strike a deal.”
Political leaders could move to include new stimulus measures when the government reaches the Dec. 11 deadline for more funding.
Or more federal aid may have to wait until the next presidential term and new Congress begin in January.
Experts say the outcome will likely vary based on Tuesday’s Election Day results.
If there is a Democratic sweep
Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden gestures after speaking a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 2, 2020.
JIM WATSON | AFP | Getty Images
The biggest-sized bill would come if Democrats win control of both the White House and Senate, said Brian Gardner, chief Washington policy strategist at Stifel.
House Democrats had put forward a $3 trillion plan in May, which was revised down to around $2.2 trillion last month.
With a Democratic sweep, the reigning party would probably look to pass something in the $2 trillion to $3 trillion range, Gardner said.
“I don’t think Democrats can pass a $3 trillion deal on their own,” Gardner said.
“Obviously, this is a fluid situation and numbers will move around a lot once negotiations resume,” he said.
Bill Hoagland, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former Senate staff member, said a Democratic sweep could provide an opportunity for Democrats to get some of the stimulus measures through during the lame duck session.
Washington leaders currently face a Dec. 11 deadline by when federal spending has to be renewed to prevent a government shutdown.
At that time, Pelosi could push certain funding initiatives through for areas like enhanced federal unemployment benefits, state and local aid, and child care, Hoagland said. Then, Democrats could pursue a more sweeping aid plan once their party has control over both the House and Senate, he said.
If Biden wins but Republicans keep the Senate
Campaign signs in support of Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, and U.S. President Donald Trump in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020.
Al Drago | Bloomberg | Getty Images
If Biden wins but Republicans still control the Senate, a new stimulus package will likely still happen, but the total spent would be less, Gardner said. He predicts the deal would be in the $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion range.
But political leaders would likely leave the option open to provide more money down the road.
“Washington has shown its ability to go back and do multiple rounds of these,” Gardner said. “I would not dismiss the possibility that this is not the last relief package.”
If Trump gets re-elected
President Donald Trump gestures as he leaves after holding a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Nov. 2, 2020.
Carlos Barria | Reuters
If Trump gets re-elected, the Senate will also likely stay in GOP hands, experts predict.
That could also lead to a smaller stimulus bill getting passed, with the idea that more federal aid could be provided later, Gardner said.
Though the polls are pointing to a Biden win, and Gardner agrees, he said he is not counting Trump out.
“I see a pathway for Trump,” Gardner said. “Biden is a favorite, but not an overwhelming favorite.”
If Trump wins, Pelosi might look to include the areas she and Mnuchin have agreed on up to this point in the Dec. 11 continuing resolution, Hoagland said.
If the results are contested
A newspaper with the likeness of U.S. President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, in Mexico City, Mexico, on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
Cesar Rodriguez | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Admittedly, the election results could be challenged, particularly in states that are deemed to be close calls.
If that were to happen, it could impede any stimulus progress before the inauguration, according to Mills.
“Any uncertainty in the outcome of the election almost guarantees no deal will be struck in the lame duck,” Mills said. “If we’re fighting over the election, there is no way to get compromise on fiscal support.”
Gardner predicts a contested election would be wrapped up in time for political leaders to take action on the stimulus in January.
But in the worst case scenario, the battle for the Oval Office could create so many bad feelings between the parties that it’s impossible for them to come an agreement on the stimulus in January, he said.
“That’s the most extreme example,” Gardner said. “It’s the most remote possibility.”
How long Americans may have to wait for money
Hundreds of jobless people wait outside the Kentucky Career Center for help with their unemployment claims on June 19 in Frankfort, Kentucky.
John Sommers II/Getty Images
A lame duck bill could be difficult for political leaders to put together, according to Gardner. That means the timing of more substantial federal aid may have to wait at least until January, he said.
But the Dec. 11 deadline to prevent a government shutdown would coincide with another looming cutoff. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which allows states to provide payments to workers who would not otherwise qualify for jobless benefits, is due to stop on Dec. 31. Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which allows states to extend unemployment checks by up to 13 weeks, also runs through Dec. 31.
“There is a bit of an unemployment cliff coming for those who don’t qualify for state unemployment benefits,” Mills said.
That is a “potential catalyst” for political leaders to address that issue in December, Mills said, particularly as Covid-19 continues to spike around the country.
While Democrats are still pushing for an extra $600 per week, Republicans are more in the $300 to $400 range, Mills said.
Prospects for $1,200 stimulus checks
While lawmakers could make enhanced federal unemployment benefits a priority, it remains to be seen whether the appetite for a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks is still there.
Senate Republicans have recently pushed a skinny stimulus bill that omitted more one-time payments.
The first set of $1,200 checks were approved with the CARES Act in March.
“A big part of why those checks occurred were because so much of the economy was locked down,” Mills said. “It’s still a priority, it’s just not the same level of priority it had been earlier this year.”
But Hoagland thinks the Senate’s recent stance could point to less political will to send a second round of checks.
“I think the one-time stimulus checks are not likely,” Hoagland said.
If they do go through, they will be “more limited, more targeted in terms of who receives them,” he said.