Congress approves fragment of jobs plan

Veteran hiring aid, repeal of tax pass

WASHINGTON – House Republicans and Democrats joined to pass the first pieces of President Barack Obama’s jobs package, sending to the president a slim slice of common ground while the bulk of the legislation remains stalled in a divided Congress.

The legislation passed Wednesday will repeal a tax on government contractors, boost job training for veterans and offer tax credits to companies that hire unemployed veterans. The House passed the measure without dissent, and Obama has said he would sign it. The Senate overwhelmingly approved it last week.

Though both parties hailed the move as a step toward job creation, it was widely viewed as a small step. Advocates for repealing the 3 percent withholding tax on federal contractors, which was signed into law in 2005 but never enacted, argued that it could prevent further job losses, but gave no estimate of how many new jobs might be created.

The tax credit program is not expected to affect enough of the 850,000 unemployed veterans to make a significant dent in the nation’s 14 million unemployed. Supporters estimated the job training program could reach 100,000 veterans.

But Wednesday’s vote was evidence of the continued attempt to show action on the issue voters see as the No. 1 priority – the bill was approved by a vote of 422 to 0 – as well as a chance for each party to tout its preferred solutions.

Republican backers hailed the vote as emblematic of the sort of pro-business actions they endorse. Democrats used the vote to hammer opponents blocking the larger pieces in Obama’s jobs proposal.

The legislation represents roughly $2 billion of the $447 billion price tag for the jobs bill Obama proposed in September.

The cost, small by Washington standards, is part of what fueled the bill’s success. Although Democrats and Republicans in Congress have hinted at agreement on some measures in Obama’s plan, including increased spending on infrastructure and an extension of the payroll tax cut, they have differed over how to pay for them.

Democrats want to foot the bill with a tax increase on personal income over $1 million, a move Republicans have sworn to block.

Democrats in the Senate have refused to take action on Republican alternatives passed by the House, a bevy of bills largely aimed at encouraging growth by blocking or trimming regulations on business.

The Congressional Budget Office, the independent analyst in Congress, weighed in on the issue this week with a report that seemed to boost the Democrats’ case.

The best proposals to spur the economy would require government spending, the report found. Those would prove better at quickly creating jobs than anti-regulatory measures, it said.

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