WASHINGTON – Despite doubts among many lawmakers that it will create many jobs, the House on Thursday passed legislation giving companies that hire the jobless a temporary payroll tax break.
The measure passed 217-201 on a mostly party-line vote. The bill also extends federal highway programs through the end of the year.
Some Democrats feel the approximately $35 billion jobs bill is too puny, while others say the tax cut for new hires won’t generate many new jobs. However, the pressure is on to address jobs and deliver a badly needed win for President Barack Obama and a Democratic Party struggling in opinion polls and facing major losses in the upcoming midterm elections. 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.”
“It’s really not a jobs bill,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “It’s one small piece.” Lee said she instead wants money in the legislation for job training and youth summer jobs.
Thirty-five Democrats, mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, opposed the bill. Six Republicans voted in favor.
The House had passed a much larger measure in December that contained almost $50 billion in infrastructure funding, $50 billion in help for cash-starved state governments, and a six-month extension of jobless aid. That bill conspicuously left out the proposals to award tax credits for hiring new workers. House 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 Thursday 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 notoriously balky 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 massive economic stimulus bill enacted a year ago.