OTTAWA - A bipartisan panel on Employment Insurance reform, set up in June to avert a summer federal election, appears to have ground to a stalemate.

The Conservative and Liberal teams wrapped up their last scheduled meeting without agreeing to a further timetable, and without - say Liberals - any firm proposals from the government side.

A Liberal plan to create a national EI eligibility standard of 360 hours was shot down as an expensive non-starter by Tory MPs on the panel.

Now the Liberals are asking Kevin Page, Parliament's independent budget officer, to do his own cost analysis of their plan.

They dispute Tory claims it will cost upwards of $4 billion a year, saying the price tag is closer to $1 billion.

The creation of the EI panel was the modest price Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff extracted from Prime Minister Stephen Harper in June in return for continued Liberal support of the minority government.

The Liberals also forced the Tories to provide them with an opportunity to defeat the government in September when Parliament returns - and the panel's apparent lack of progress sets up one more friction point between Harper's government and the official Opposition.

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