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Democrats Weigh Extending Key Parts of Stimulus

 White House officials said they also are examining whether to extend a soon-to-expire tax credit for first-time homebuyers, but that provision faces a stiffer headwind.
For the fiscal year that ended Wednesday, the government is expected to post a record $1.56 trillion budget deficit. That rise is feeding criticism of the administration's spending, and sowing some worry among officials about spending.

National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, in an Internet interview for Atlantic magazine, said he wouldn't be caught using a loaded phrase such as "Stimulus 2." But he hinted at the legislative discussion.

"We certainly need to continue to support people in need, whether through unemployment insurance or COBRA, which for the first time provides that people who get laid off get supported," he said.

"The administration will consider ways of making unemployment insurance be there as a safety net to the extent practical," said Alan Krueger, assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy.

Extending unemployment benefits through 2010 would cost about $100 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank.

The cost of the original stimulus plan is likely to shoot higher than the $787 billion estimate, as payrolls continue to be cut.

Under the stimulus program, workers who lose their jobs up to Dec. 31 would get the full, expanded 79 weeks of unemployment benefits, including the $25-a-week expansion in the program.

Those laid-off workers also would get nine months of COBRA support. So programs that nominally terminate at the end of the year would extend much of the way through 2010 for tens of thousands of Americans.

Some people close to the administration believe that when likely extensions of jobless benefits are added in, the total cost of the original stimulus program could exceed $900 billion.

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