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Senate Democrats offer jobs measures

House members may want a more ambitious plan

By Andrew Taylor
Associated Press / February 25, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats delivered the first of several promised election-year jobs bills yesterday, passing a measure blending tax breaks for companies that hire unemployed workers with highway funding eagerly sought by the states.

The bipartisan 70-to-28 vote to pass the bill sends it to the House, where many Democrats say it is too puny and call the allocation of highway money unfair. House members, however, feel pressure to pass it anyway to score a win for President Obama and the Democratic Party, which has dropped in opinion polls and could face losses in midterm elections.

It’s the first major bill to pass the Senate since the Christmas Eve passage of a deeply controversial health care bill and the subsequent election of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, which demonstrated the Democrats’ falling standing even among voters who tend to back them.

Democrats promise additional measures to create jobs, including help for small businesses having trouble getting loans, aid for cash-strapped state governments, and subsidies for people who make their homes more energy efficient. But worrisome budget deficits could make future measures difficult to pass.

The jobs bill contains two major provisions. First, it would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security tax through December and give them an additional $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year. The Social Security trust funds would be reimbursed for the lost revenue. Second, it would extend highway and mass transit programs through the end of the year and pump $20 billion into them in time for the spring construction season. The money would make up for lower-than-expected gasoline tax revenues.

Representative James Oberstar, a Democrat from Minnesota and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said the Senate bill would unfairly favor states such as California and Illinois, at the expense of almost every other. “It’s got to be changed. If you brought it up now, it wouldn’t pass,’’ he said.

But a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Brendan Daly, said lawmakers are working to resolve the issue. “We are on a path to move forward this week,’’ Daly said in an e-mail.

The Senate’s proposal, blending $15 billion in tax cuts and subsidies for infrastructure bonds issued by local governments with $20 billion in transportation money, is a far smaller measure than the $862 billion stimulus bill enacted a year ago.

The measure cleared a key hurdle Monday when Brown and four other Republicans broke party ranks to defeat a filibuster. Brown took heat from conservative commentators and bloggers for his Monday vote, though 12 other Republicans voted for the bill yesterday.

Senator Judd Gregg, of New Hampshire, denounced the measure for increasing the budget deficit. He said it undercut Democratic promises to adhere to “pay-as-you-go’’ budget rules.