By Ben Pershing
Washington Post staff writer
Friday, March 5, 2010; A12
After stalling briefly, the Democrats' jobs agenda regained momentum on Thursday as the House passed one measure designed to boost employment and the Senate pressed forward on a more ambitious bill that is expected to come to a vote next week.
The House voted 217 to 201 to approve a $15 billion measure that would give tax breaks to companies for hiring new employees. Six Republicans joined the vast majority of Democrats in supporting the bill, which also includes a one-year reauthorization of the law governing federal highway funding, as well as an expansion of the Build America Bonds program and a provision allowing companies to write off equipment purchases.
More than 30 Democrats voted against the measure. Liberals complained that it is too small and too focused on tax cuts rather than on spending.
The Senate passed the bill last week on a bipartisan vote. But because the House altered the measure, the Senate must approve the revised bill before President Obama can sign it into law. The Senate is expected to take it up again next week.
"This bill is a clear, focused effort at putting Americans back to work," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said. "It provides strong incentives for businesses to start hiring again."
But economic experts are divided on how effective the payroll tax break would be at spurring job creation, and some Republicans said they were skeptical.
Rep. Tom Price (Ga.), chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, predicted that the bill would not make a significant dent in the unemployment rate. "Any company that can't afford to hire today still won't be able to hire if this bill becomes law," Price said. "Calling this a 'jobs' bill is pure fraud."
Before Thursday's vote, some moderate House Democrats, and many Republicans, expressed concern that the measure violates recently enacted "pay as you go" budget rules, because only a portion of its spending and tax credits is offset.
House Democrats altered the bill slightly to address those concerns, but some liberals remained critical of the bill's priorities.
The House approved a $154 billion jobs bill in December full of spending on infrastructure projects and initiatives to help the poor, and some House Democrats want the Senate to take that approach rather than moving their jobs agenda in bits and pieces.
"I wish it was combined," Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said of the Senate's strategy. "It would be easier to digest."
The Senate, meanwhile, considered amendments Thursday on a $150 billion jobs measure that includes one-year extensions of unemployment insurance and COBRA health benefits, plus renewals of a variety of expiring tax breaks supported by Republicans and K Street.
The measure also includes money to help states fund Medicaid, a "fix" to prevent a cut in payments to doctors seeing Medicare patients, and help for private pension funds that were crippled by the economic recession. A vote on final passage is expected to come early next week.