Some people haven’t received their second round stimulus payment yet, but that doesn’t stop Americans from wondering when they’ll get a third stimulus check. (Note that I said “when” – not “if” – because a third round of stimulus checks seems almost a foregone conclusion now that Democrats control the House, Senate and presidency.) But you don’t necessarily have to expect a new payment right away. Another round of stimulus checks will not magically appear just because Joe Biden is now president. It’s not that simple.
There are a number of factors that determine the timing of a third stimulus check. Will they be included in a standalone bill or combined with other incentives? Where will the stimulus measures go on President Biden’s list of priorities? Will the impeachment process slow things down? These are some of the questions that need to be answered before the timing for a third stimulus check can be established.
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Stand-alone account versus large stimulus package
Perhaps the fastest way to get a third stimulus check is if Congress passes a stand-alone bill — in other words, a bill that nothing but about stimulus controls. We came pretty close to a third payment after a standalone bill – the CASH Act – was passed by the House in December. That account would have added a $1,400 incentive check on top of the $600 second-round payments that are now being paid out (for a total of $2,000). However, Republicans blocked a vote on the CASH Act in the Senate.
But now Democrats will determine which bills get a vote in the Senate. sen. Chuck Schumer (DN.Y.), the new Senate majority leader, pushed hard for the CASH Act and will do so again for another stimulus check. And he wants to switch quickly. “One of the first things I want to do,” Schumer said, “is deliver the $2,000 checks to American families.” With a standalone account, that could happen relatively quickly — perhaps in a week or so. The IRS could then start sending new payments within days (as they did with the second round of stimulus checks). That would potentially put stimulus money for the third round in people’s pockets in early February.
However, President Biden has other plans. He wants to include a third round of stimulus checks in a $1.9 trillion economic aid package that would also fund vaccine distribution, opening schools, state and local government, improved unemployment benefits and much more. Combining all of these emergency measures into one bill will likely take longer to get through Congress — especially since the Senate’s Democratic majority is wafer-thin (a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the deciding vote) ).
Only one Democratic defector could do the work on a comprehensive bill in the new Senate. In fact, Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) has already cast some shadow on the idea of more stimulus checks if they aren’t “targeted” and only sent to people who need them. Other Democratic senators may also have other objections to the contents of a major bill (in many cases, arguing that not enough aid is being proposed). With so much money and so many different programs, it can take weeks of negotiations to get enough senators on board. It may also take a few Republican votes, which can take some time to settle. In the absence of Republican support, Biden’s plan would likely have to go through the budget-alignment process to pass in the Senate (this would allow the package to pass by just a majority of votes instead of 60) . Under this approach, the delivery of stimulus checks for the third round could easily be delayed until the end of February or March – or perhaps later.
Other reasons for delay
Getting the virus under control will be President Biden’s number one priority once he is in office. While it’s important to help Americans who have been hurt financially by the pandemic, there will likely be other COVID-related health measures he wants to take first. If that means shifting focus to economic relief – and stimulus in particular – that could slow down third-round payments.
Congress will also have a lot on its plate. Democrats want bold change soon on several fronts. But their agenda could be held up by impeachment proceedings against former President Trump in the Senate. Time spent on deposition means time away from economic relief – and thus away from stimulus controls.
Some Democrats have suggested waiting a few months before sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate for consideration. That tactic would minimize delays in economic aid and other priorities by letting the Senate settle other matters before tackling the thorny issue of impeachment.
And let’s not forget that the Senate will also have to confirm Biden’s appointees in his cabinet and other political offices. This too can take time from dealing with stimulus checks and other economic matters.