WASHINGTON - Despite doubts among many lawmakers that it'll create many jobs, the House passed legislation yesterday giving companies that hire the jobless a temporary payroll tax break.
The measure passed 217-201 on a mostly party-line vote. It extends federal highway programs through the end of the year.
Some Democrats believe the approximately $35-billion jobs bill is too puny, while others say the tax cut for new hires won't generate many new jobs.
But the pressure is on to address jobs and deliver a badly needed win for President Barack Obama and Democrats struggling in opinion polls. Further jobs measures are promised.
"If that's the only thing that I can vote on . . . I'll vote for it, obviously," said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). "We've got to get something moving. We've got to get something done."
The House had passed a much larger measure in December that contained almost $50 billion in infrastructure funding, $50 billion in help for state governments, and a six-month extension of jobless aid. That bill left out proposals of tax credits for hiring new workers. Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those skeptical of that idea.
The Senate responded last week with the far smaller measure that the House is reluctantly accepting. The House amended the measure yesterday to conform with so-called pay-as-you-go budget rules that have become an article of faith among moderate Democrats.
The rules require future spending increases or tax cuts to be paid for with either cuts to other programs or equivalent tax increases. The minor tweak means that the Senate would have to act again before Obama could sign the bill into law.
The $35-billion bill, blending $15 billion in tax cuts and subsidies for infrastructure bonds issued by local governments with the $20 billion in transportation money, is far smaller than the stimulus bill enacted a year ago.
"It's ridiculous that it's taken so long for the Senate to overcome indifference and obstruction to finally send a bill back to the House which represents just a fraction of what we need to do to help the unemployed," said House Appropriations chairman David Obey (D-Wis.). "But better late than never, and better something than nothing."