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Senator Reid seeks extension of jobless aid

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 yesterday 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 today. 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 Sunday deadline, Reid hopes to pass two measures. 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.

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