(CBS Detroit) — A second stimulus package did not pass in the weeks leading up to the election. And that’s despite much negotiation between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, not to mention President Donald Trump’s attempts to influence the process. The Senate tried and failed to pass its own smaller stimulus bills. In the end, Democrats blamed Republicans, and Republicans blamed Democrats for the failure.
The election is now a few days away. Many votes have already been cast in early and mail-in voting, and many more are being cast everyday. Americans are left to wonder if all the second stimulus talk was just political theater. A $1,200 stimulus check and additional unemployment benefits, among other things, could’ve made a big difference to millions of people enduring the ongoing economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. But would the passing of another stimulus bill have affected the outcome of the current election?
“I don’t think the failure this past week really matters,” says Christopher Way, Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University. “I don’t think it’s going to have an impact. I think, to have an impact on the election, at least a positive one for Republicans, it would’ve had to have been passed some time ago.”
There was ample opportunity to pass a second stimulus package. The HEROES Act, the precursor to what Pelosi and Mnuchin had been recently negotiating, passed the House back in May. At that time, it was already clear that more stimulus would likely be needed should the virus follow its predicted trajectory. The Act languished in the Senate without being brought to a vote. But as the election drew close, it became a topic of conversation again.
Had a stimulus bill passed months ago, it probably would’ve had some effect on the election. According to Way, “to really have an impact on the election, the stimulus package would’ve had to have been passed in July, August, maybe the very beginning of September. Because what you want, if you’re the Republicans, is time for that money to flow down to people, for the checks to get out, for enhanced unemployment benefits to be distributed. You want time for people to feel it. If it was passed two weeks ago, nobody would’ve felt it before the election.”
Some version of the political aphorism “it’s the economy, stupid” still holds true in 2020. And while the economy is still historically bad, it’s better now than it was back in April. Recent GDP numbers show record growth in the third quarter. And last week’s new unemployment claims dipped to 751,000, the lowest they’ve been in months.
Another method of giving people money, of course, is a stimulus package, which didn’t happen. As Way points out, “it’s a pretty solid pattern across democracies that the incumbent party would like to have voters have more money in their pockets as the election comes about. Increasing disposable income in an election year is usually a good thing for the incumbent party. The stimulus would’ve put more money in a lot of people’s pockets. That didn’t happen. And normally we think that’s not good for the incumbent party. So it probably helps the Democrats, on balance, by not helping the Republicans.”
With the electorate so divided, and so many issues swirling, it’s hard to imagine who might’ve been swayed by a hypothetical stimulus passed in time to reach people’s pockets. “My understanding is that much of the swing toward [Joe] Biden has come from independents” says Way. “And Biden is absolutely destroying Trump among independents. So that is a constituency that I think would’ve been affected by it. It goes hand in glove with the poor response to the COVID pandemic, which is hurting him among these constituencies. It’s another thing that makes him look incapable of dealing with the crisis, either on a medical on an economic front. It may well have mattered for some number. It turns out that the election is not that close. If we were in 2016, and it was a matter of 75,000 voters in three states, it could’ve made a difference.”
The election will come and go. Regardless of the results, the country will still be saddled with a pandemic the likes of which it hasn’t seen in a century. The economy will still be struggling to recover as the number of positive cases rises and new restrictions loom. The need for a second round of stimulus still exists.
Unfortunately for millions of Americans, another stimulus package is unlikely to pass the current Senate. Much of the focus before the election centered on negotiations between Pelosi and Mnuchin. And the two sides actually came reasonably close to a deal. But the Senate was always the real hurdle. A stimulus package in the neighborhood of $2 trillion is seen by some as far too expensive.
So could we see a second stimulus during the lame-duck session? “I kind of doubt it, but I’m not sure,” says Way. “But the reason I doubt it is because the real reason we haven’t had a [second] stimulus is the Republicans in the Senate. And they’re deeply divided on this. And my understanding is that the calculation of a lot of the Republicans in the Senate who aren’t up for reelection this year is looking ahead to the next election. They don’t want to be on record supporting a big government program that expands welfare programs. These are policies that are, in the long run, anathema to Republican ideology and policies. And they don’t want to be on the hook for supporting that. If that’s their logic, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s three weeks before the election or three weeks after it. Because they’re thinking two or four years down the line.”
It’s anyone’s guess if or when a new stimulus bill will be passed, but many say the economy and millions of households don’t have much time to wait for more help.