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Provisions of Obama jobs plan earn rare Senate approval

November 10, 2011|By Lisa Mascaro, Washington Bureau
  • Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill urging support for a veterans hiring initiative.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill urging… (Brendan Smialowski / Getty…)

The Senate overwhelmingly approved provisions from President Obama's jobs plan that found rare bipartisan appeal, including a proposal to give companies tax credits for hiring unemployed veterans.

The vets package proved too irresistible for Republicans to block, as they have most other flanks of Obama's $447-billion jobs package.

The 94-1 vote on the eve of Veterans Day comes at a time when the jobless rate among Iraq and Afghanistan vets is in the double-digits, higher than the 9% national unemployment rate.

Obama's proposal was bolstered by attaching a popular House-passed bill that would provide job training for vets.

"It's the right thing to do," said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who co-sponsored the measure.

Leaders tacked the veterans legislation to another popular provision from Obama's package – the repeal of a forthcoming business tax on companies that contract with the government.

The overall package sailed through the Senate on Thursday 95 to 0.

Approval now sends the proposals to the GOP-led House, which is expected to give approval, possibly next week.

Thursday's votes offer a brief reprieve in the bipartisan war over Obama's jobs package, which has run into strong resistance from the GOP in Congress. Senate Republicans have stood unified in their opposition to most of its elements and the House has only agreed to consider certain provisions.

Proposals to send federal funds to cash-strapped states to keep public school teachers and firefighters on the job or to jolt the economy with new infrastructure spending on roads and bridges have all been blocked.

Republicans say these programs will not create jobs, and prefer a strategy that involves halting federal regulations and cutting taxes to boost the sluggish economy. A few Democrats joined the blockade in the Senate, opposing a proposed surtax on households earning beyond $1 million a year to pay for the new programs.

But pairing the veterans provisions and adding them to the business tax repeal was an opening for common ground.

The vets proposal would offer companies a $5,600 tax credit for hiring each veteran that has been unemployed for six months. A smaller tax credit would be offered for bringing on vets who have been jobless a shorter period of time.

Companies would also be offered a $9,600 tax credit for hiring out-of-work veterans with service-related disabilities.

Democrats further smoothed the offer by dropping the millionaire's tax to pay for the package. Instead, the nearly $2 billion cost will be covered by extending a Veterans Administration loan fee, as proposed in the House bill.

The business provision would repeal a 3% withholding tax on companies that contract with the government that was first approved during the George W. Bush administration, but had been postponed until 2013.

Business leaders have opposed the forthcoming tax, but congressional Democrats and Republicans initially argued over how best to cover the cost of deferring or repealing it. The Senate ultimately agreed to the House-passed version.

Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who sponsored the business legislation, said he hoped Congress would build momentum from this moment of comity.

"For one day, at least, partisanship will lose," he said.

While the measures have broad political appeal, experts have said  they are not likely to make a sizable dent in the economic outlook.

lmascaro@tribune.com

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