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Reid optimistic about chances for extending unemployment benefits


J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pauses during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014.

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was “cautiously optimistic” that senators will be able to strike a deal to offset the cost of a longer-term extension of emergency unemployment benefits.

Reid met today with Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., the two chief sponsors of a bill to temporarily extend unemployment benefits under consideration in the Senate.

Heller and Reed’s bill, which in its current form extends unemployment benefits for three months with no measures to offset the estimated $6.5 billion cost, would likely be amended to incorporate “pay-fors” and other changes before it is passed.

Five Republicans joined Heller on Tuesday to support an initial procedural measure on the bill. But most did so with a caveat: Without the incorporation of some cost offsets, they wouldn’t support the bill over its next procedural hurdle.

The measure must clear one more threat of a filibuster, which requires 60 votes, before it can pass. There are 55 Democrats in the Senate and of the Republicans, only Heller has pledged to vote for the unemployment extension, whether or not the costs are offset.

Thus far, Republican senators have proposed cost offsets ranging from a one-year repeal of the individual health insurance mandate to a measure to prevent immigrants without authorization to be in the United States from claiming a child tax credit.

Heller said Tuesday he thinks the most likely cost-offset would be to require jobless workers who are eligible for both unemployment and disability insurance to choose just one form of federal support. That change would save about $5 billion to $6 billion, Heller said.

The cost of a full-year extension of unemployment benefits would be closer to $25 billion. Neither Heller nor Reid have detailed which pay-for arrangement talks appeared to be coalescing around.

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