A bipartisan jobs bill cleared a GOP filibuster on Monday with critical momentum provided by the Senate's newest Republican, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
The 62-30 tally to advance the measure to a final vote on Wednesday gives both President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats a much-needed victory — even though the measure in question is likely to have only a modest boost on hiring.
Brown and four other Republicans broke with GOP leaders to advance the measure. Most other Republicans voted in favor of the filibuster because of strong-arm tactics by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The bill is likely to enjoy far broader GOP support on Wednesday when it's put to an up-or-down vote.
The bill featured four provisions that enjoyed sweeping bipartisan support, including a measure exempting businesses hiring the unemployed from Social Security payroll taxes through December and giving them another $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year.
Though employers seldom make hiring decisions based on tax breaks, economist Mark Zandi says the measure could potentially create 250,000 new private-sector jobs. That's less than 4 percent of the 8.4 million jobs lost in the recession.
Joining Brown in voting to break the filibuster were two moderate New England Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and two retiring GOP senators, Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted "nay" and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., was absent.
Reid's bill is a far smaller measure than Obama's $862 billion economic stimulus bill enacted a year ago. It's also significantly smaller than a rival bipartisan bill unveiled earlier this month by two senior senators.
The legislation also would renew highway programs through December and deposit $20 billion in the highway trust fund.
"I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families," said Brown, whose election last month gave Republicans the 41st vote that could sustain GOP filibusters. "This Senate jobs bill is not perfect ... but I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work."
For his part, Reid was clearly pleased. "I hope this is the beginning of a new day here in the Senate," he said. "Whether this new day was created by the new senator from Massachusetts or some other reason I'm very, very happy."
Voinovich said he voted for the bill because the highway spending will create jobs and help states pay for important projects.
"If we don't do this we're going to miss the construction season, and this is an area where you absolutely create jobs," Voinovich said.
After the vote, Obama thanked the Senate. "The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs, and today the Senate took one important step forward in doing that," Obama said, adding that more needs to be done.
Among Obama's proposals to boost the economy are a $250 payment to Social Security recipients, $25 billion to help cash-strapped states and $30 billion in Wall Street bailout money redirected to help community banks lend to small businesses.
"It's a good first step," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said. "There's no doubt we need to do more."
Republicans and some Democrats were unhappy that Reid abruptly dumped about $70 billion worth of tax breaks for businesses and individuals, help for the unemployed and additional Medicare payments to doctors from a compromise measure unveiled earlier this month by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman and ranking Republican on the Finance Committee.
In addition to the hiring tax incentives and highway funding, the bill would extend a tax break for small businesses buying new equipment and modestly expand an initiative that helps state and local governments finance infrastructure projects.
The larger Finance panel bill included about $33 billion in popular tax breaks, including an income tax deduction for sales and property taxes and a business tax credit for research and development, that would be extended through 2010. Those ideas have sweeping support among lawmakers and have been routinely renewed for years.
Business groups and economist Zandi of Moody's Economy.com say companies are unlikely to hire workers just to receive a tax break. That means most of the tax benefits would go to companies that would have hired new workers anyway.
"Obviously it's not very efficient," Zandi said. "It's something worthwhile doing as an insurance policy but it's not something one would want to do in any other circumstance."
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