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Senators Near A Deal On Unemployment Insurance

01/09/2014 01:58 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

WASHINGTON -- Senate negotiators are nearing a deal to extend emergency unemployment insurance for a full year, aides involved in the negotiations tell The Huffington Post.

The deal was still in the works early Thursday afternoon, and like all sensitive political negotiations, it remained possible that it could still fall apart. But aides were optimistic enough to float the idea that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could announce something later in the day.

At issue is how to pay for a $26 billion, year-long extension, since Senate Democrats are resisting passing a short-term, three-month extension if its costs have to be offset. The proposal now under consideration would find the money by extending sequestration cuts to mandatory spending for another year, saving an estimated $17 billion. A Senate Democratic source told HuffPost that the additional year would be added on to the two-year extension contained in the recently passed budget agreement. That deal saw sequestration cuts extended until 2023, but the unemployment insurance deal would extend them to 2024.

In addition, the UI deal would reduce the amount of Social Security Disability Insurance that people could receive while simultaneously on unemployment insurance. A proposal put forth by Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) -- the lead Republican negotiator in these talks -- would fully prevent duplicative spending. That idea would save an estimated $5.4 billion over 10 years, according to a Republican aide. But the more moderate version being negotiated by Reid and others would pocket about $1 billion over the same time period.

Finally, the bill being negotiated would reduce the number of weeks of benefits provided, saving an estimated $8 billion.

"It is not something a lot of people are excited about, but we’re at a this or nothing stage," said a senior Democratic aide of the state of negotiations. "This has not been signed off on or anything, but it’s the current basis for discussions."

The deal being negotiated is separate from the three-month unemployment insurance bill the Senate advanced on Tuesday. That bill included no offsets for its $6.4 billion price tag. A separate Senate Democratic aide explained that party leadership supported sticking with that proposal, but it was unlikely that it would get the 60 votes needed to clear a Republican-filibuster. And so, party leadership needed to find pay-for provisions, and rather than fund a three-month unemployment insurance extension, they decided to go big and for a full-year bill.

During his press briefing on Thursday, Reid said he was "cautiously optimistic" that lawmakers could strike a deal.

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