Congress sends Obama $18 billion jobs bill to sign

By Ben Pershing
Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Senate cleared an $18 billion jobs bill for President Obama's signature Wednesday, a down payment on what Democrats hope will be a significant election-year investment in boosting the economy.

The measure passed 68 to 29, with 11 Republicans joining all but one Democrat present, Sen. Ben Nelson (Neb.), in support. The bill had passed the Senate once, but the House tweaked it, requiring the second Senate vote before it could go to the White House.

Obama plans to sign the measure Thursday, according to an administration official.

Although relatively small compared to last year's economic stimulus package, the measure represents the first clear legislative shot in months aimed squarely at persistent unemployment, and a rare bipartisan achievement from a Congress plagued by partisan squabbling.

The centerpiece is a new program giving companies a break from paying Social Security taxes for the remainder of 2010 on any new workers they hire who had been unemployed for at least 60 days.

Employers would also get a $1,000 tax credit for each of those workers who stays on the payroll for at least one year.

The measure includes a one-year extension of the law governing federal transportation funding and would transfer $20 billion into the highway trust fund.

Some critics have questioned whether the legislation is big enough to make a dent in the nation's persistent unemployment problem, arguing that the new payroll tax break is unlikely to spur much new hiring that wouldn't have occurred otherwise.

Separately, many Republicans suggest the bill uses accounting sleight of hand to make the measure appear budget-neutral.

"This isn't so much a jobs bill as it is a debt bill," Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said.

Democrats counter that the measure will give employers a tangible and immediate incentive to add workers, citing studies suggesting that a payroll tax break could encourage the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

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