By Alexander Bolton - 01/07/14 03:13 PM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday he is open to finding an offset to pay for extending unemployment benefits through 2014.
Republicans hailed Reid’s remarks as a significant development in the battle over unemployment assistance that has dominated the start of the year, but Reid suggested it will be difficult to find an offset that both parties can agree upon.
“But right now they should understand the low-hanging fruit is gone. We’ve scavenged every place we can go,” he said.
Reid said White House chief of staff Denis McDonough will review possible offsets but emphasized the emphasis should be on Republicans to find a pay-for because they have insisted on not adding to the deficit.
“I talked to Denis McDonough before I came to the caucus — the president’s chief of staff — he said they’ll run the traps on this. It’s really hard to find anything,” Reid said.
Reid, however, said the cost of the proposed three-month extension of benefits pending on the Senate floor should not be offset.
He expressed more flexibility on an aid package covering the rest of the year.
“If they can come up with some — they meaning the Republicans — something that’s reasonable for a yearlong extension, I’ll take a look at it,” he said. “They’re the one who wants it to be paid for. We don’t think it should be paid for. Why should the onus be on us?”
Republicans hailed Reid’s comments as a breakthrough.
“I understand the majority leader said he was open to discussing the issue of paying for an extension of unemployment insurance. I hear the administration is open to discussing paying for it, as well. There may be a way forward here,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
“This is the first time I’ve heard Democrats talk about passing unemployment benefits that don’t add to the deficit and I’ve been here 17 years,” said a senior Republican aide.
Democrats have argued that Congress did not offset the cost of unemployment benefits when they approved them during a lower unemployment rate under former President George W. Bush.
McConnell countered the deficit was lower during the Bush administration.
“When George W. Bush was president we didn’t have a debt as big as our economy,” he said.
“We have a debt crisis. We ought to be able to find in over $3 [trillion] of annual spending a way to pay for this program,” he said.
—Erik Wasson contributed to this story.