Senate advances job-creation bill with GOP help

Referring to the bill's bipartisan support, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid said,
Referring to the bill's bipartisan support, Majority Leader Harry M. Reid said, "I hope this is the beginning of a new day in the Senate." (Melina Mara/the Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Ben Pershing
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Aided by a handful of Republicans, Senate Democratic leaders on Monday kept alive a $15 billion job-creation measure and are poised to pass the measure later this week.

Five Republicans, including new Sen. Scott P. Brown (Mass.), joined 57 Democrats in voting to break a filibuster of the jobs bill, after a suspenseful buildup in which members of both parties wondered whether Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) could cobble together enough support to clear the legislative hurdle.

The bipartisan result marked a breakthrough for Democrats, who have been frustrated since President Obama came to office by their inability to attract much Republican support for their agenda. The vote was also a vindication for Reid, who is grappling with a tough reelection race in Nevada and faced questions in Washington over whether he mishandled the jobs issue.

"I hope this is the beginning of a new day in the Senate," Reid said after the vote.

Reid lost the public support of several Republicans after discarding an $85 billion jobs package negotiated by Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) in favor of a narrower bill favored by liberals. GOP leaders complained that Reid had spurned a bipartisan deal that had been negotiated in good faith.

Republicans Christopher Bond (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) and George V. Voinovich (Ohio) joined Brown in breaking ranks to back the bill. Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.) was the only Democrat to vote against the measure, which advanced, 62 to 30.

The bill's centerpiece is a $13 billion program allowing companies to avoid paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of 2010 on new hires who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. Employers would also receive a $1,000 tax credit for each new worker who stays on the job for at least a year. Democrats tout the plan as a simple way to create tens of thousands of new jobs, though some experts dismiss it as too narrow to make a significant dent in the nation's unemployment rate.

The jobs bill also includes a one-year reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund, a provision allowing companies to write off equipment purchases as business expenses, and an expansion of the Build America Bonds program, which helps state and local governments finance infrastructure projects.

Brown, who pulled off a stunning political feat last month by capturing the seat of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) and gave Republicans the 41 votes to block most Democratic initiatives, announced his intention to support the measure minutes before Monday's vote. He said he "came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside. . . . This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I will vote for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work."

The Social Security tax break, co-authored by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), is smaller and substantially different from a new-job tax credit plan advanced by Obama. But the president still praised the Senate measure on Monday, saying: "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.

The Baucus-Grassley bill contained everything included in the bill cleared on Monday, plus extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits as well as a $31 billion package of extensions of expiring tax breaks eagerly sought by Senate Republicans. Those extensions gave pause to Reid and others in the Democratic caucus, who worried that the bill would be portrayed as a giveaway to K Street.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) complained that Republicans were not allowed to offer amendments to Monday's jobs bill, even though they also have proposals. "Those ideas should be considered," he said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company