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Senate leader says he's seeking votes for new jobless benefits deal, may hold debate next week

WASHINGTON - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday he is seeking votes for a new measure that would extend jobless benefits for three more months for people out of work the longest.

Reid, D-Nev., said he still lacks the 60 votes needed to end Republican delaying tactics against the measure. But he told reporters that he has 58 or 59 votes and hopes his chamber will debate the package next week.

Democrats are pushing the bill amid an election-year effort to portray themselves as defenders of families struggling to make ends meet during the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession.

The proposal would cost a bit over $6 billion and be paid for by giving large corporations more time to meet their pension obligations, Democratic officials said.

That would raise federal revenue over the short term because it would lower companies' pension fund contributions, which are tax deductible. It would reduce federal revenue later as corporate pension contributions increase.

The bill's details were described by Democratic officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private talks.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has been a leading Republican in efforts to round up GOP support for a compromise. Nevada's unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent last month was one of the nation's highest.

"Sen. Heller is continuing to talk with his Democratic and Republican colleagues about a number of ideas to move unemployment insurance legislation forward," said Heller spokesman Chandler Smith.

The program expired on Dec. 28, cutting off benefits for more than 1 million long-term unemployed people.

Efforts to revive the benefits have stalled in the Senate, where most Republicans have opposed the proposed extension.

Under the expired program, an average $256 weekly had gone to laid-off workers who exhausted their state-provided benefits, which generally last 26 weeks. Federal payments were available for up to 47 more weeks, depending on unemployment in each state.

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AP Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this report.

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