The U.S. Senate has passed by a vote of 68 to 29 the first major element of the Democrats' agenda to tackle high unemployment rates and put Americans back to work. The $17.6 billion measure had spent months bouncing back and forth between the House and Senate. Obama called the bill the first of what he hopes will be a series of jobs packages that help to continue to put people back to work.
The measure includes a payroll tax break for businesses that hire unemployed workers with a tax credit of $1000. These workers must remain on the job for at least one year. It also includes extensions of the surface transportation programs funded by the Highway Trust Fund, the Build America Bonds program and more generous expensing rules for small businesses.
Both chambers are preparing additional bills designed to stimulate hiring and help small businesses. They are also working to reconcile differing versions of legislation to extend special unemployment benefits, COBRA health insurance subsidies for the unemployed and various tax breaks for individuals and businesses.