By Howard Lafranchi
WASHINGTON — After nearly seven months of pitched Democratic infighting over how to extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless, Senate Democrats said Sunday they have agreed to a way forward that includes $4 billion in new spending to help pay for the benefits.
Aides had squabbled over a number of weeks about how to spend an estimated $12 billion to extend the benefits, which expired in late December, but reached a joint agreement on Sunday, said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“I was informed by our colleagues the other day that they would like to close the agreement,” Reid said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“We have a good draft,” Reid said, calling it “way better than we started out with.”
Under the new agreement, Democrats say they will pay for the unemployment insurance extension – which is now worth more than $100 billion – by using about $4 billion in stimulus money designated for a program to combat the nation’s heroin epidemic.
But their plan also relies on delaying repayments on a debt imposed by the 2002 Medicare prescription drug bill. As part of the bipartisan budget deal approved last year, lawmakers agreed to delay the full payment of those payments until 2021.
Democrats said Sunday they still had to gain the cooperation of the Republican-controlled House and the White House, and both have said they will not approve any extension of unemployment benefits unless the money can be paid for with “smart” spending cuts elsewhere.