WASHINGTON — The Senate easily passed a $15 billion jobs bill Wednesday amid hope that the measure could provide a blueprint for other items on President Barack Obama's agenda.
The measure passed 70-28, with 13 Republicans joining 55 Democrats and two independents in support of the package. One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted against it.
Both of Florida's senators supported the final measure. Sen. George LeMieux, who had voted Tuesday to block the bill, was among the Republicans who crossed party lines to approve the plan Wednesday. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson joined in support.
The $15 billion proposal for tax cuts and subsidies for infrastructure bonds issued by local governments blends with a $20 billion extension of the Highway Trust Fund to create a total bill worth $35 billion.
"We've had so much gridlock," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., co-author of a key portion of the bill. Now, he said, "finally we have something" bipartisan to show the public.
Despite his vote, LeMieux remained critical. "This bill could have been a lot better," he said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the majority gave us a 'this or nothing' choice and refused to allow any senator the right to offer ideas or amendments to improve this bill. At the end of the day, this was better than doing nothing."
The legislation is the first element of what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said will be a "jobs agenda." The measure includes a new program that would give companies a break from paying Social Security taxes on new employees for the remainder of 2010. It also carries an expansion of the Build America Bonds program and a provision to allow companies to write off equipment purchases.
The next stop is the House, where Democratic leaders are weighing whether to pass the Senate version or go to conference to reconcile it with the $154 billion jobs bill the House passed in December. With the additional $20 billion for the Highway Trust Fund, the House measure is worth $174 billion.
Wednesday's passage of the Senate bill was made possible by five GOP defections on a procedural vote Monday — from two retiring senators from the economically depressed Midwest and three New Englanders seeking to maintain a foothold in a region where Republican officeholders have grown scarce.
Freshman Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., grabbed the headlines, deciding on the first big vote of his new career to side with Democrats and the two GOP moderates from Maine, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.
Just days after Brown was greeted rapturously by attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference, his vote on the jobs measure made Reid "very happy," the majority leader said. Reaction on the right was less complimentary.
One leader of the Tea Party movement has taken to calling the freshman "Benedict Brown," and disillusioned conservatives filled Brown's Facebook page with accusations that he was a "Judas" and a "sellout."
The votes of Collins and Snowe are frequently targeted by Democrats, and while neither senator said she had been promised anything, both are eager for future jobs bills to include tax breaks and help for small businesses.
Retiring Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, was more specific, announcing Monday that he had agreed to back the jobs measure after getting a "commitment" from Reid that the Senate would take up a long-term reauthorization of the highway bill in 2010.
Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., who is also not running for re-election, cited the bill's funding for transportation projects in explaining his decision to side with Democrats.
Democrats welcomed the result, suggesting that it could be a model for future endeavors.
"Several of those ideas were Republican ideas, so it's nice to see that there are Republicans who are willing to not follow blindly their leadership in their overall goal of filibustering," said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.