The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly approved provisions of President Obama’s jobs plan that found rare bipartisan appeal, including a proposal to give companies tax credits for hiring unemployed military veterans.
The veterans package proved too irresistible for Republicans to block, as they have most other pieces of Obama’s $447-billion jobs package.
The 94-1 vote on the eve of Veterans Day came as the jobless rate among Iraq and Afghanistan vets remains in double digits, higher than the 9% national unemployment rate.
Obama’s proposal was bolstered by attaching a popular House-passed bill that would provide job training for vets.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who co-sponsored the measure.
Leaders tacked the veterans legislation onto another popular provision of Obama’s proposal — the repeal of a business tax, set to take effect in 2013, on companies that contract with the government.
The overall package sailed through the Senate, 95 to 0. Both proposals now go to the GOP-led House, which is expected to give its approval, possibly next week.
Thursday’s votes offered a reprieve in the bipartisan war over Obama’s jobs package, which has run into strong resistance from the GOP in Congress. Senate Republicans have stood unified in their opposition to most of Obama’s proposal, and the House has agreed to consider only certain provisions.
Republicans have blocked some provisions that polls show are popular with the public, such as more federal money for cash-strapped states to keep public school teachers and firefighters on the job, and Obama’s call to jolt the economy with new infrastructure spending on roads and bridges.
Republicans said those programs would not create jobs, and preferred a strategy that involved halting federal regulations and cutting taxes to boost the sluggish economy. A few Democrats joined the blockade in the Senate, opposing a surtax on households earning beyond $1 million a year to pay for the new programs.
But pairing the veterans provisions and adding them to the business tax repeal created an opening for common ground.
The legislation would award companies a $5,600 tax credit for each veteran they hired who had been unemployed for at least six months. A smaller tax credit would be offered for bringing on vets who had been jobless for less than six months.
Companies also would be offered a $9,600 tax credit for hiring out-of-work veterans with service-related disabilities.
Democrats further smoothed the offer by dropping the proposed millionaire’s tax to pay for the package. Instead, the nearly $2-billion cost will be covered by extending a Veterans Administration loan fee, as proposed in the House bill.
The business provision would repeal a 3% withholding tax on companies that contract with the government. It was first approved during the George W. Bush administration, but had yet to be enacted.
Business leaders opposed the tax, but congressional Democrats and Republicans initially argued over how best to cover the cost of deferring or repealing it. The Senate ultimately agreed to the House-passed version.
Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who sponsored the business legislation, said he hoped Congress would build momentum from this moment of comity.
“For one day, at least, partisanship will lose,” he said.
Though the measures have broad political appeal, experts said they were not likely to make a sizable dent in the economic outlook.