One jobs bill down ... what happens next?

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK ( -- Now that it's taken its first baby step towards creating jobs, Congress is looking at more measures to spur employment.

Don't expect any blockbuster bills with inventive hiring initiatives. With partisan politics dominating Capitol Hill, lawmakers are concentrating on bite-sized bills that are easier to pass. Most of the measures merely extend or expand existing laws.

Here's where things stand in both chambers:

House: Members are expected to take up legislation next week that contains a medley of tax benefits for small businesses, including a provision allowing entrepreneurs to deduct up to $20,000 of startup costs, up from $5,000 currently.

The bill also focuses on making infrastructure projects easier and less costly for states and cities to fund. For instance, the legislation would extend through 2013 the Recovery Act's popular Build America Bonds program, which has financed more than $78 billion in projects as of March 1.

"Small businesses are an important engine of our economy and this bill combines a number of proposals to help them grow and free up resources to hire new workers," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., the bill's sponsor. "This bill also extends effective financing measures like the Build America and Recovery Zone Bonds so that they can continue creating new jobs while making critical improvements to our communities."

Also on the agenda for the Ways & Means Committee is an energy-related jobs bill that would likely include the so-called cash for caulkers" provision that President Obama has touted for months. This program would provide rebates to homeowners who purchase energy-saving appliances or have energy audits performed on their homes.

Senate: The chamber will take up a small business measure in mid-April. It is still being crafted, a leadership aide said.

What's needed

The president and many lawmakers have said the best way to create new jobs is through small business hiring incentives and infrastructure spending.

While some economists agree, others think the economy should be left to recover on its own or that efforts should focus on helping struggling states and the unemployed.

Lawmakers' primary effort to date -- a$17.6 billion tax credit and infrastructure initiative that the president signed into law Thursday -- is quite small, said Kurt Karl, chief U.S. economist with Swiss Re. More important, he argued, is giving existing stimulus provisions additional time to have an impact on the economy.

"We probably have enough of these things in the pipeline," said Karl, who expects hiring to pick up by year end regardless of what Congress does. "We just need to have some patience."

Others, however, think it's critical for the government to do more to assist the unemployed and the states. Tax credits can be helpful, but only if businesses think the demand is there, experts said.

Extending jobless benefits and providing fiscal relief to the states, which are contending with massive budget gaps, will spur demand and prevent layoffs, said Chad Stone, chief economist for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.

The Senate last week passed a bill that would extend the deadline to file for unemployment benefits until year's end. The measure would also send $25 billion to the states to help cover their expanding Medicaid costs.

The House is expected to take it up in April; the deadline currently expires April 5.

"It's good to get something done, but that something is not nearly enough," Stone said of Congress' efforts so far. To top of page

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