Senate Democrats are close to gaining enough Republican votes to advance a three-month extension of emergency jobless benefits, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today.
The Nevada Democrat told reporters that the cost of the three-month extension would be covered by budgetary reductions elsewhere, meeting a major Republican demand.
“I hope we have something on the floor next week,” Reid said. “It’s paid for for three months. The Republicans said they wanted it paid for. We’ve figured out a way to pay for it.”
The revised plan would make changes to pension rules, known as “pension smoothing,” to cover the cost of extended benefits, said a Senate Democratic aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the proposal isn’t final.
Such a maneuver would give companies more time to make payments to their pension funds, meaning their short-term taxable income would increase because they could claim fewer deductions.
Reid spoke a day after President Barack Obama called on Congress in his State of the Union address to restore emergency jobless benefits that expired Dec. 28 for 1.6 million Americans. Democrats, who control 55 Senate seats in the 100-member chamber, have been trying to court the five Republican votes needed to advance a bill.
Talks imploded earlier this month after Reid rejected a Republican proposal for a paid-for three-month extension. Nevada Senator Dean Heller, a Republican negotiator, said at the time that Reid “wanted this to die for political reasons.”
Today, Heller told reporters he hasn’t decided whether he will support Reid’s latest offer.
“We’re jumping to conclusions a little too quick,” Heller said. “We’re still negotiating it. We haven’t secured all the votes or anything at this point.”
Heller said it was a positive sign that the majority leader was willing to finance a three-month extension. Until now, Reid said he wouldn’t consider offsetting the cost of extending emergency benefits unless they were continued for about a year.
On Jan. 14, the Senate failed by a 55-45 vote, with 60 needed, to advance a Democratic proposal to extend the unemployment benefits for three months without covering the cost.
Reid said today that three or four Republicans have said they would support his latest plan, meaning Democrats are “very close” to locking down the necessary 60 votes.
“We’re very close right now, though we don’t have 60. But I know we’re at 58 or 59,” Reid said.
He cautioned that the talks could again break down.
“Every time we’ve reached the bar, they go back to where they were,” Reid said. “They don’t want unemployment extension benefits because they don’t believe in them. But we do, and we hope we can get five courageous Republicans to step over the line.”
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