Senate votes 70-28 to approve $15 billion jobs bill

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 - 12:19pm

WASHINGTON — The Senate today easily approved a $15 billion Democratic plan to try to spur job creation, as lawmakers hastened to demonstrate that they were taking steps to improve the nation’s employment picture.

The vote was 70 to 28. Thirteen Republicans joined 55 Democrats and two independents voting in favor.

The measure would give employers a temporary exemption from payroll taxes for newly hired workers who had been unemployed for 60 days or more. It also seeks to spur spending on public works projects and to encourage business investment by accelerating tax write-offs.

Though modest in scope, the bill was hailed by Democrats as evidence that after months of impasse, Republicans and Democrats can find some consensus on pressing domestic issues.

“For the first time in a long time, we have a bill that is supported by both Democrats and Republicans,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate and a co-author of the main provision on payroll taxes.

The measure now goes to the House, where Democratic leaders have indicated they will try to move it rapidly to the president’s desk.

Before approving the measure, Democrats had to beat back a procedural objection: Some Republicans argued that the measure violated budget rules because, by shifting as much as $20 billion into highway projects, it added to the federal deficit. But Democrats said the money was due to be repaid later and would not expand the deficit.

Though the objection was overridden, it left Republicans accusing Democrats of breaking budget enforcement rules just weeks after they were put in place.

Senator Scott Brown, the newly elected Republican from Massachusetts, played a key role in advancing the legislation. He joined with Democrats on one of his first major votes.

“This jobs bill is far from perfect, and ideally would include deeper and broader tax cuts,” Mr. Brown said in a statement. He said if the measure is changed substantially in the House and returns “to the Senate full of pork, waste, fraud and abuse, I reserve the right to vote against it.”

The push behind the relatively modest package of tax breaks for employers who hire the unemployed and aid for public works projects is a sign that, even as Democrats continue to press for a broad health care overhaul, they are also working to notch more incremental accomplishments as they try to build a record for the November elections.

“We have a jobs agenda, not a jobs bill,” Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, said. “We’re going to have more votes, and create more jobs.”