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Senate approves $15 billion jobs bill

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The Senate on Wednesday approved a $15 billion job-creation bill that would give businesses tax breaks for hiring the unemployed and states more money for infrastructure projects.

The four-prong bill would:

  • Exempt employers from Social Security payroll taxes on new hires who were unemployed;
  • Fund highway and transit programs through 2010;
  • Extend a tax break for business that spend money on capital investments, such as equipment purchases;
  • Expand the use of the Build America Bonds program, which helps states and municipalities fund capital construction projects.

The legislation, approved by a 70-28 vote, is a scaled-down version of an $85 billion bipartisan draft bill that was crafted by Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

Some 13 Republicans, including newly elected Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., voted for the measure Wednesday.

"Today's progress is a small step forward but an important one," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who surprised many lawmakers last week when he announced the slimmed-down measure. "This morning's vote is a victory for hard-working Americans, especially those trying to find work. This will help our economy grow."

It now moves to the House, which may take it up as soon as Friday, said a Democratic aide at the House, which passed a more comprehensive $154 billion bill in December.

However, the bill does not extend the deadline to apply for unemployment benefits or the Cobra health insurance subsidy. Some 1.2 million people will run out of benefits after Feb. 28 if the deadline is not extended. Lawmakers are looking to pass a separate, shorter extension by the end of the week in order to give them time to enact a longer fix.

Also, unlike the House's bill, the Senate's jobs measure does not provide additional assistance for states. Many governors want the Obama administration to send more federal dollars so they can cope with yawning budget gaps.

The administration said on Monday that it strongly supports the $15 billion jobs measure but indicated it is only one step in the job-creation effort. The president wants lawmakers to take up a bill that would increase small businesses' access to credit.

Reid said the Senate will vote on extending tax provisions and small business job measures in the near future. The majority leader also said lawmakers will consider providing additional Medicaid money for states, which governors have been requesting.

"We have other things in mind," Reid said. "Remember, we don't have a jobs bill, we have a jobs agenda."

Still, labor leaders and left-leaning think tanks say the Senate must do more to spur job creation.

"We need to create 11 million jobs to get back to the level of unemployment we had before the recession began," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute. "Yet the Senate jobs bill would create no more than a couple hundred thousand jobs."

CNN Radio Correspondent Lisa Desjardins contributed to this report. To top of page

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