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New jobless benefit plan advanced

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed optimism Thursday about chances for compromise on jobless legislation, and officials said talks were focused on a scaled-back program that is fully paid for and would provide up to 31 weeks of benefits for the long-term unemployed.

The officials said the emerging compromise would run through the late fall, and the price tag—approximately $18 billion—would be offset through cuts elsewhere in the budget so deficits would not rise.

Rank and file senators in both parties were reviewing the proposal in closed-door noon meetings.

The Senate has been working on a three-month resurrection of a program that expired on Dec. 28, immediately cutting off benefits of roughly $256 weekly for more than 1 million hurt by the recession.

(Read more: Unemployment aid: What's at stake for the US economy)

Reid, D-Nev., told reporters he was "cautiously optimistic" about a compromise emerging later in the day but provided no details.

The expired law provided a maximum of 47 weeks of payments after an unemployed worker has exhausted state-funded benefits, which usually run 26 weeks.

The new measure would reduce the 47 weeks to a maximum of 31 weeks, officials said, based on a sliding scale that dates to the expired program.

Officials said the first tier of additional benefits would be six weeks—— and be generally available to all who have used up their state eligibility.


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