The latest stimulus check update out of Washington DC is that both sides are still talking and negotiating over another coronavirus relief bill — but the chance of one passing before the November election looks slimmer than ever.

Indeed, the prospect of new stimulus checks has arguably become the MacGuffin of American politics.
Like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction or the titular falcon in The Maltese Falcon, the checks have become a sideshow — the thing audiences don’t get to see or see fully, which nevertheless continues to drive the plot of our current political reality forward.

News outlets like ours have been covering the interminable back-and-forth talks in Washington DC over the possibility of new $1,200 stimulus checks for months now, and one thing has finally become clear about the whole affair even as millions of Americans still await a new stimulus check update.

As tantalizing as the prospect of receiving a new round of direct coronavirus relief payments may be, what should now be readily apparent is that, first, no one should hold their breath in anticipation of a new $1,200 check before the November election. Maybe even by the end of 2020. Second, stimulus checks have become what you might regard as the MacGuffin of American politics.

That’s a Hollywood term that might not be familiar to many of you, even though you most certainly have come across it before. On the big screen, a MacGuffin is anything that drives the plot of a movie forward even though nobody really knows what it is and you never really see the thing. In Pulp Fiction, for example, it’s the briefcase, whose contents we as the audience never get to see but which is key to the story, nonetheless.

A MacGuffin is important insofar as it’s the thing that drives some other thing. This is the whole reason we don’t have new stimulus checks in the mail or in our bank accounts yet. On Tuesday, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reportedly spoke for 45 minutes — which, sure, certainly sounds promising, and makes them both look good. But appearances are everything now. The stimulus checks, the MacGuffin, are superseded by an all-out war for each side to make itself look ideal in the final days before the November presidential election.

In fact, a bill that includes new $1,200 stimulus checks arguably can’t pass before then. For the simple reason that it would require each side to voluntarily do something that makes the other side look a little better.

Where things stood as of Tuesday: Democrats were asking for $2.2 trillion in coronavirus relief, with the White House only wanting to offer about $1.9 trillion. Pelosi can’t give an inch, because it would amount to a desperately needed win for a Trump administration that’s badly in need of some good headlines. Likewise, the White House doesn’t want to be seen as caving to Democrats, even though coming to an agreement on $1,200 payments, ironically, would probably bolster Trump’s re-election prospects, at least a little.

And so we’re left with the state of suspended animation in which the prospect of more stimulus checks have existed for more than 90 days (that’s when Pelosi and Mnuchin first started talking). What should have been the easiest political layup of 2020 remains the MacGuffin of a movie that everybody wishes had ended a long time ago.
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