Payroll tax negotiations open amid optimism

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WASHINGTON (AP) ? Negotiations on renewing a payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and jobless benefits for millions have kicked off on Capitol Hill, with both sides optimistic of an agreement despite last year’s bitter battles over President Barack Obama’s jobs proposals.

The talks will focus chiefly on finding ways to finance the $10 billion-per-month cost of a 2 percentage point cut in Social Security payroll taxes that awards a worker making a typical $50,000 salary a tax cut of about $20 a week.

Lawmakers also need to pay for the $45 billion or so cost of renewing jobless benefits for people out of work for more than half a year.

Negotiators face a Feb. 29 deadline under a temporary measure enacted amid great acrimony just before Christmas.