WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate overwhelmingly passed two modest job-creation bills on Thursday in a rare display of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans to boost the struggling economy.
The two measures, on their own, would do little to bring down the 9 percent unemployment rate. They represent one of the few areas of overlap between contrasting job-creation agendas the two parties are promoting ahead of the 2012 elections.
The Senate voted 95 to 0 to eliminate a yet-to-be-enacted law that would withhold 3 percent of payments to government contractors to ensure that they pay their taxes. Business groups oppose the law and Congress has prevented it from taking effect since it was passed in 2006. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed it two weeks ago.
The Senate also approved by a vote of 94 to 1 a package of job training, tax breaks and other incentives aimed at reducing unemployment among military veterans. Veterans account for 850,000 of the country's 14 million unemployed workers, according to the White House.
"If you spend six years in the Army driving a truck, you ought to be able to get your commercial drivers' license a whole lot faster than someone who does not have that experience," Democrat Jon Tester, a sponsor of the bill, said on the Senate floor.
COMPLICATING THE TAX CODE
Republican Jim DeMint, the lone senator to oppose the measure, said it would complicate the tax code at a time when lawmakers are trying to simplify it. The incentives are not enough to convince a business to hire workers it does not need, he said.
"It might sound like good politics but it's not good policy," DeMint said on the Senate floor.
Because the Senate combined the two bills together, the House will have to approve them again before President Barack Obama can sign them into law.
The two provisions are so far the only elements of Obama's $447 billion job-creation package that appear to be likely to become law. Together, they would cost about $9 billion over 10 years.
Senate Republicans have already blocked the jobs bill as a whole and defeated individual components that would boost construction spending and help cash-strapped local governments meet their payrolls.
Republican leaders have declined to say whether they will back the tax cuts for workers that make up the bulk of the bill.
Republicans are advancing a rival agenda of their own, centered around expanding domestic oil and gas drilling and relaxing pollution controls and other business regulations.
They count 22 bills as part of this plan that have stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate after passing the House. [See the top 10 cities to find a job.]
The Republican and Democratic jobs plans actually complement each other, according to the analysis firm Macroeconomic Advisers.
Streamlining regulations as Republicans advocate would increase productivity over time but do little to boost the economy in the short term. The Obama plan, by contrast, would boost employment by 1.3 million jobs next year and have a dwindling effect after that.