WASHINGTON – Majority Leader Harry Reid is pressing to extend unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless through December as he and Republicans try to figure out a way to clear the Senate's plate of business left over from last year.
Reid also hopes to keep helping cash-strapped states with their Medicaid budgets, he said Tuesday on the Senate floor.
The Nevada Democrat is in talks with GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky over what to include in catchall legislation to help the long-term unemployed, extend several expired tax breaks and prevent doctors from suffering a big cut in their Medicare reimbursements.
The measure would cost more the so-called jobs bill the Senate is voting on Wednesday. It mostly clears up business left unfinished because of last year's health care debate.
There is nothing new in the emerging measure to spur job growth. It merely would extend provisions that senators in both parties say have generally been helpful to the economy.
Facing a Feb. 28 deadline, Reid hopes to pass two measures, one as soon as Tuesday. The first includes a 30-day extension of several of soon-to-expire provisions such as jobless aid, parts of the Patriot Act and prevention of cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.
Reid and McConnell were obviously negotiating the parameters of the second — a broader, longer-term measure — in a private conversation on the Senate floor. A top Reid aide could be overheard suggesting a full-year extension of unemployment insurance and a 65 percent health insurance subsidy for the unemployed through the federal COBRA program.
At issue is extending several layers of additional weeks of benefits that have been approved by Congress since June 2008. The core benefit is 26 weeks, with up to 20 additional weeks in states with high unemployment.
The aide also proposed extending for another six months a provision of last year's economic stimulus bill in which the federal government pays a higher share of costs for the state-federal Medicaid health care program for the poor and unemployed. The Medicaid help mirrors an Obama administration proposal to give states about $25 billion to help with their Medicaid budgets.
Reid dropped the help for the unemployed from the jobs bill currently before the Senate following a bipartisan 62-30 vote Monday to end a GOP filibuster. Republicans were unhappy Reid had also discarded an extension of more than 40 expired tax breaks they wanted in the bill.