Stimulus Check Update: Hopes for a Fourth Stimulus Check Are Still Alive

Over 80 Democratic lawmakers have asked President Biden for more stimulus payments, and the president hasn't said "no" yet. But what are the real chances of seeing a fourth stimulus check?

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Is a fourth stimulus check in our future? Could we see even more direct stimulus payments after that? While the odds are certainly against it, Democratic lawmakers in Congress keep asking President Biden to include additional stimulus check payments in his Build Back Better plan.

As recently as May 17, six Democratic members of the influential House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter (opens in new tab) to Biden urging him to prioritize "recurring direct payments tied to economic conditions." That letter brings the number of Democratic legislators who have signed letters to the president asking for regular stimulus checks until the economy recovers to 80. And, because there are still people on Capitol Hill pushing for more direct payments, the idea of a fourth stimulus check (and possibly more) isn't dead yet.

The lawmakers' arguments for additional stimulus checks are fairly consistent. For instance, they all say direct payments are needed to keep millions of ordinary Americans out of poverty. But they also claim that stimulus checks are an effective form of economic relief because they increase spending at all income levels. Regarding the need for regular stimulus checks until the pandemic is completely behind us, they say Americans "deserve to know they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads" and "should not be at the mercy of constantly shifting legislative timelines and ad hoc solutions."

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Not surprisingly, the idea of more stimulus checks is popular with the general public, too. One poll from Data for Progress (opens in new tab) that's often cited by Democrats who support recurring payments found that 65% of voters – including 54% of Republicans – support a $2,000 monthly payment for every American until the pandemic is over. There's also an online petition on Change.org (opens in new tab) calling for monthly $2,000 checks that, as of May 23, has been signed by over 2.2 million Americans. Also, according to a POLITICO-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (opens in new tab) poll, most U.S. adults don't believe the American Rescue Plan, which authorized the third-round of stimulus checks and other benefits, will help them very much. Those feelings help drive public support for additional stimulus payments.

But there are still difficult questions that would have to be answered before legislation authorizing more direct payments is passed. There's been little discussion so far of how large a fourth stimulus check should be or how much people would get each month if recurring payments were enacted. Democratic lawmakers also haven't said who would qualify for additional stimulus payments. Before the $1,400 third-round stimulus checks were approved, there was a contentious debate about how "targeted" the direct payments should be. Even some Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), fought to limit payments only to those most in need. As a result, a more aggressive "phase-out" rate was adopted for third-round stimulus checks.

Republican Opposition to Additional Stimulus Checks

Don't expect Republicans to get behind another round of stimulus checks. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he doesn't think a fourth round of direct payments is needed. The economy is starting to recover, and jobs are coming back. Republicans say they don't want to slow down the economic recovery with additional federal debt and more government spending that could trigger a sharp rise in inflation. The Boston Herald also reported that over 1.2 million first-round stimulus checks were either refused, paid back, or not cashed. Expect Republicans to use that information to support their argument that another round of stimulus payments isn't needed if so many payments weren't even used (although the IRS issued more than 160 million first-round stimulus checks in total).

If a fourth round of stimulus checks is authorized, it will likely happen in the same way that third-round payments were enacted – without any Republican votes. While some Republican lawmakers have supported stimulus checks in the past, they seem united against the sort of large and expensive plans that a stimulus check proposal would likely be part of, such as the president's American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. That means Democrats will probably have to use the reconciliation process again if they want more stimulus payments. (Reconciliation is a procedural device to allow a bill to pass in the Senate with a simple majority vote instead of the usual 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.)

Does Biden Want a Fourth Stimulus Check?

President Biden hasn't said one way or the other if he supports a fourth stimulus check or recurring stimulus payments. However, earlier this month White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked if there would be another round of stimulus checks in any future legislation. Her response: "We'll see what members of Congress propose, but those are not free." While that comment indicates some level of openness to the idea, the acknowledgement that stimulus checks may be too expensive certainly doesn't give supporters of additional payments much comfort.

The president's actions don't seem to indicate a strong level of support for more stimulus checks, either. Biden has released two large economic plans since the American Rescue Plan was enacted – the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan – and neither one included another round of stimulus checks. Instead, those plans focus on creating jobs, rebuilding infrastructure, and tax breaks for ordinary American families. That doesn't mean that President Biden would oppose another round of stimulus checks if it were included in a bill that reached his desk, but a proposal for more direct payments probably would have been in one of his latest plans if he really wanted a fourth stimulus check.

How Likely is a Fourth Stimulus Check?

While hopes for a fourth stimulus check are technically still alive, the odds of there being another round of stimulus payments are slim. Recurring payments tied to economic conditions are even more unlikely. Yes, there's some support in Congress for additional direct payments. But it's important to note that not all Democrats can be counted on to get behind another expensive round of stimulus checks. For instance, no one on Capitol Hill would be particularly surprised if Sen. Manchin objected to more stimulus payments.

Plus, even though President Biden hasn't said "no" to more stimulus checks, he seems much more interested in extending the temporary enhancements to the child tax credit, child care tax credit, and earned income tax credit that were part of the American Rescue Plan. With the economy improving and Republicans pushing to keep the cost of any future legislation down, it just doesn't seem like the president wants to spend political capital on stimulus checks.

Of course, the president's plans are merely a starting point for further legislation. Once the process of creating and voting on bills gets going, new proposals will be added and certain items on Biden's wish list will be cut. That's just how the sausage making works. So, anything is possible…but that still doesn't make a fourth stimulus check or recurring payments likely.

Rocky Mengle
Senior Tax Editor, Kiplinger.com

Rocky is a Senior Tax Editor for Kiplinger with more than 20 years of experience covering federal and state tax developments. Before coming to Kiplinger, he worked for Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting and Kleinrock Publishing, where he provided breaking news and guidance for CPAs, tax attorneys, and other tax professionals. He has also been quoted as an expert by USA Today, Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Reuters, Accounting Today, and other media outlets. Rocky has a law degree from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. in History from Salisbury University.