Is that next round of stimulus payments coming in April? Maybe, but it could actually be even sooner depending on how things develop in Congress. On Tuesday, February 2, Senate Democrats decided to move ahead with President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan with or without Republican support, and by Friday morning they’d taken the first step on the so-called “fast track” process, a Senate vote in favor of a budget resolution that the House took up hours later. That makes it sound like the Democrats are basically ramming the new legislation through as quickly as they can, but there’s still a long way to go before Biden can sign a bill into law.
So what exactly is going on? And what does it mean for your next round of stimulus payments? Here’s what you need to know.
How is the Biden Stimulus Suddenly on the So-Called Fast Track?
Senate Dems are using a process known as budget reconciliation that allows them to pass certain kinds of legislation with a simple majority (which requires just more votes than the other), rather than a super-majority (which requires at least 60 votes). It also avoids the filibuster process, which means the bill won’t be killed if every Democrat but no Republicans vote for it.
This is a good thing — it helps Democrats keep the aspects of their plans that they like, it limits who, exactly, they have to bargain with, and will get people the money they need sooner. Basically, the Democrats are saying, hey, we only need the bare-minimum number of votes to do this, and we’re going to use a legal procedure to make it happen.
Will the Fast Track Stimulus Vote Actually Happen?
If the Democrats are successful, this means that the $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which includes $1,400 stimulus checks, expanded funding for schools and frontline workers, public health works program which would give over 100,000 people jobs, an expanded child tax credit, and more could be written by February 16.
After that point, the bills would probably go to the House and Senate, which could take a few days. Democrats want to pass the bill by mid-March to avoid a gap in the extra unemployment benefits scheduled to expire then but renewed with the new bill.
It does seem likely that the vote will happen then, but there are some snags.
What Could Go Wrong?
By using budget reconciliation, Senate Democrats can avoid the filibuster process and will easily pass the package. But they cannot go over the initial price tag of $1.9 trillion dollars. This means they can’t try to tinker with the amounts after the package introduced to a vote, except for cutting spending in the package. If they did, the Republicans could filibuster them. The reconciliation process also means that some parts of the Biden proposal, namely paid family and sick leave, will likely have to be axed.
Republicans have taken offense to the Democrats using a legal legislative process that they themselves used during the beginning of the Trump administration in 2017. According to the House Committee on the Budget, Republicans in the 115th Congress used budget reconciliation to cut taxes for the wealthy and eliminate the penalty for not having health insurance. They also attempted to use reconciliation to get rid of the Affordable Care Act earlier in 2017. While that attempt failed, they were able to pass their tax cuts for the wealthy using the process, so Republicans crying foul are almost certainly just angry that they’re now in the minority, not that they have a real issue with reconciliation.
When Will We Know If Senate Dems Were Successful?
Senate Democrats passed the budget resolution after an all-night vote-a-rama early on Friday morning, and the House is taking it up the very same day. So far, so good for them, but the trickiest part of the process, writing the actual legislation, is still ahead.
As of right now, President Joe Biden says he still wants to get bipartisan support for the package. But he and Democrats in the Senate don’t really seem to expect that to happen and are ready to pass the massive bill sans GOP votes. If the Democrats can get a bill together by February 16 that everyone from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin publicly supports, it’s hard to imagine what could prevent it from becoming law.
If the Stimulus Passes, How Soon Will the Payments Go Out?
The short answer is that we don’t know yet. At the earliest they’ll likely start going out in mid-March, but if the Democrats squabble over the legislation for too long we might not see them until later.
The good news is that the last round of Stimulus payments showed up in people’s bank accounts just a few days after Congress voted, so hopefully the time between Biden putting pen to paper and the money machine going brrr is minimal.