WASHINGTON — Senate 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 clear leftover Senate business.
Reid also hopes to keep helping cash-strapped states with their Medicaid budgets, he said Tuesday on the Senate floor. Taken together, these proposals would cost in the range of $100 billion.
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 than the jobs bill the Senate is scheduled to approve 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. Instead, it 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 possible. 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 discussing 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.
There is no agreement on how to proceed on the broader measure, said Minority Whip Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., who said Republicans are concerned about the high cost of the aid to the unemployed. An earlier bipartisan proposal would have extended the aid through May 31 instead of through the end of the year as proposed by Reid.
Kyl added that the proposal to give more Medicaid help to the states took Republicans by surprise. The nation's governors are lobbying strongly for the help.
The most costly piece of the measure would continue to provide additional weeks of benefits to jobless people whose unemployment insurance would otherwise expire. They have been extended several times by Congress since June 2008. The core benefit is 26 weeks, with up to 20 additional weeks in states with high unemployment.
The Reid 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. Republicans were unhappy Reid had also discarded an extension of more than 40 expired tax breaks they wanted in the bill. A trimmed-down version of the jobs bill advanced on a bipartisan 62-30 vote Monday to end a GOP filibuster.