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Senate passes $140 billion in tax breaks, aid to unemployed

Although Republicans supported many of the bill's individual provisions, critics said that much of the bill's cost would add to the swelling budget deficit.

"Why do we keep doing this?" asked Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). "Why do we keep passing debt on to our children? Why do we keep running program after program out here that is shrouded in sweetness and light but not paid for?"

In the House, Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), the new chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, told reporters Tuesday that his chamber may want to go to a formal conference committee to reconcile the two chambers' jobs bills. Creating a conference committee could drag out the process in the Senate for several days, unless Republicans cooperate.

House Democrats have been broadly skeptical of their Senate counterparts' approach to jobs legislation. The House moved a $154 billion package in December that included significant new spending for infrastructure projects, as well as aid to states to prevent layoffs of key personnel such as teachers, police and firefighters.

That funding for local governments is also part of a new jobs package unveiled Wednesday by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.). His proposal would give $75 billion directly to states, counties and cities to save or create government and nonprofit jobs.

The Senate hasn't considered similar language, choosing instead to move measures heavy on tax breaks that are viewed unfavorably by many liberals.

Separately, the Senate is expected to vote as soon as this week to send a $15 billion jobs package to the president's desk. That bill -- which would create a Social Security tax break for companies hiring new employees and reauthorize federal highway spending -- has passed the Senate once with bipartisan support. But because the House altered the bill slightly before approving it last week, the Senate will have to take it up once more.

Both chambers are planning in the coming weeks to consider proposals to provide tax breaks and access to credit for small businesses.

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