Bipartisan jobs bill advances past GOP filibuster

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WASHINGTON – A bipartisan bill that would provide tax cuts for businesses that hire unemployed workers cleared a GOP filibuster in the Senate Monday, opening the way for final congressional approval.

The Senate voted 61 to 30 to end debate on the measure. The Senate is expected to vote on final passage Tuesday or Wednesday, sending the bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The $35 billion bill blends $15 billion in tax cuts and subsidies for infrastructure bonds issued by local governments with $20 billion in federal transportation money.

The Senate passed a similar version of the measure in February. The House made minor changes when it passed the bill, requiring its return to the Senate for approval.

Passage would give Obama a much-needed victory while highlighting Democratic efforts in Congress to address unemployment in the run-up to midterm elections this fall.

“We need to help people to get jobs,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “We need to do more to help businesses to hire more workers.”

The bill contains two major provisions. First, it would exempt businesses hiring the unemployed from the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax through December and give employers 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 in $20 billion in time for the spring construction season. The money would make up for lower-than-expected gasoline tax revenues.

The Senate vote came the same day House Democrats unveiled a new bill designed to help small businesses that could be voted on as early as this week.

The House bill would exempt long-term investments in certain small businesses from capital gains taxes, and would expand the Build America Bonds program, which subsidizes interest costs paid by local governments when they borrow for construction projects.

The bill would also make it easier for the federal government to withhold payments from government contractors that owe back taxes.

The House bill was unveiled by Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. The committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday. The House could vote on it by the end of the week.

Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., and Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., also unveiled a bill Monday that included several similar proposals, giving added momentum to legislation designed to help small businesses.