WASHINGTON — A bipartisan jobs bill cleared a GOP filibuster on Monday with critical momentum provided by the Senate's newest Republican, Scott Brown of Massachusetts.
The 62-30 tally to advance the $15 billion measure to a final vote today gives both President Barack Obama and Capitol Hill Democrats a much-needed victory — even though the measure in question is likely to give only a modest boost to hiring.
Brown and four other Republicans broke with GOP leaders to advance the measure. Most other Republicans voted in favor of the filibuster because, they said, of strong-arm tactics by Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. The bill is likely to enjoy far broader GOP support today when it's put to an up-or-down vote.
"I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families," said Brown, who was elected last month to fill the seat of the late Ted Kennedy. "This Senate jobs bill is not perfect … but I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work."
The bill featured four provisions that enjoyed sweeping bipartisan support, including a measure exempting businesses that hire the unemployed from Social Security payroll taxes through December and giving them another $1,000 credit if new workers stay on the job a full year.
Though employers seldom make hiring decisions based on tax breaks, economist Mark Zandi says the measure could potentially create 250,000 new private-sector jobs. That's less than 4 percent of the 8.4 million jobs lost in the recession.
Joining Brown were two moderate New England Republicans, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and two retiring GOP senators, Kit Bond of Missouri and George Voinovich of Ohio. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska voted "nay" and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., was absent.
Florida Democrat Bill Nelson voted for it and Republican George LeMieux against it.
Reid's bill is a far smaller measure than Obama's $862 billion economic stimulus bill enacted a year ago. It's also significantly smaller than a rival bipartisan bill unveiled earlier this month by two senior senators.
The legislation also would renew highway programs through December and deposit $20 billion in the highway trust fund.
Reid was clearly pleased: "I hope this is the beginning of a new day here in the Senate. Whether this new day was created by the new senator from Massachusetts or some other reason, I'm very, very happy."
After the vote, Obama thanked the Senate. "The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs, and today the Senate took one important step forward in doing that," Obama said, adding that more needs to be done.
Among Obama's proposals to boost the economy are a $250 payment to Social Security recipients, $25 billion to help cash-strapped states and $30 billion in Wall Street bailout money redirected to help community banks lend to small businesses.
"It's a good first step," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said. "There's no doubt we need to do more."