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Senate jobs bill a starting point for more legislation

A $15-billion package is passed with the help of 13 Republicans. Now, other measures are in the works to boost hiring nationwide.

February 25, 2010|By James Oliphant

Reporting from Washington — After passing a $15-billion jobs bill Wednesday in a rare bipartisan vote, the Senate plans a flurry of other measures designed to jump-start hiring across the nation.

Those efforts will include a series of business-friendly tax breaks, a bill intended to boost tourism, extensions of unemployment compensation and COBRA insurance, and a bid to modernize the nation's air-traffic-control system.

Senate leaders hope that the same bloc of Republicans who crossed party lines to support the bill -- which would, among other provisions, give employers a tax break for new hires -- will continue to work with Democrats to pass a wave of legislation in the coming weeks and months.

But there are no guarantees. Although 13 Republicans jumped the aisle to align themselves with Democrats in the 70-28 vote, eight of them had opposed the bill's passage as recently as Monday.

The bill would grant employers an exemption for their 6.2% Social Security payroll contribution for every new employee hired through the rest of the year, as long as that employee had been out of work for at least 60 days. It would also make it easier for businesses to write off equipment purchases and would extend federal highway and mass-transit funding programs.

"Today, 70 senators voted 'aye' and recognized the need to put jobs over politics," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. "The infrastructure measures in this bill are going to save or create well over a million jobs."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the vote proved that bipartisanship in the Senate was possible. It also marked a victory for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who has seen his chamber paralyzed for months by partisan warfare.

The bill now heads to the House, where leaders there must decide whether to pass the Senate bill unchanged or attempt to reconcile it with a much more sweeping $154-billion bill passed there in December.

House Democrats have complained that the Senate's approach is too incremental and won't reshape the employment landscape quickly enough. Still, they may decide that Congress needs to show the public that it's moving forward on job creation.

Republicans opposing the bill charged that it was fiscally irresponsible and would add to the burgeoning federal debt. But others argued that the bill was necessary because it would pump up the depleted federal Highway Trust Fund.

"There are some things that we are supposed to be doing in America," said Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.). "We need to start building roads and bridges and repairing them."

Inhofe was one of the eight Republicans who switched sides to support the bill. Others included Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee; Thad Cochran of Mississippi; Orrin G. Hatch of Utah; and Richard M. Burr of North Carolina.

After the bill passed, Reid said the Senate would soon take up a bill that would promote foreign travel to U.S. tourist destinations such as Las Vegas. Senators will also work on a package that would include extensions of several industry-friendly tax breaks, such as a credit for biofuels and research and development costs. A provision that would continue increased federal Medicaid help to cash-strapped states could be included as well.

Many of the tax provisions were in a bill crafted by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) that was rejected by Reid this month as tailored to special interests.

Reid also pushed back at GOP calls for action on the recently expired estate tax, an issue that is likely to resurface in the coming weeks. And next month, Democrats hope to pass a bill that would provide loan assistance to small businesses.

joliphant@latimes.com

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