- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

It took two months, but a sliver of President Obama’s jobs-stimulus plan is finally on its way to his desk after the House gave a final sign-off Wednesday to new tax credits to promote hiring of veterans and a repeal of the so-called “withholding tax” that was set to bite government contractors in 2013.

The $30 billion package is less than 10 percent of what Mr. Obama proposed in September, but it may be all he gets. The veterans and withholding provisions are the only ones for which Republicans and Democrats have been able to agree and to find budget offsets.

Still, House lawmakers came together, voting 422-0 in favor of the bill, and congratulated each other for at least finding this much common ground.

“When we work together, we can find bipartisan solutions,” said Rep. Dave Camp, Michigan Republican and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

Democrats said the two moves were laudable, though they said it doesn’t mean Congress‘ job is done.

“Picking out two of the smaller pieces of that agenda and saying you’ve acted on the president’s jobs bill is really disingenuous,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Republicans have balked at the president’s broader $447 billion package, saying that the long-term tax increases he proposes to pay for the short-term benefits are a bad deal for the economy.

Instead, they’ve argued that Congress should only pass those parts that all sides can agree on.

Seeking to drive the bipartisan message, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Mr. Obama should hold a signing ceremony on the bill, and should invite Sen. Scott P. Brown, a Massachusetts Republican who backed ending the withholding requirement.

Such a ceremony could undercut the White House’s claim that Congress is failing to work together on jobs bills.

In a statement, Mr. Obama, who is traveling overseas, praised both sides for the vote but said he still wants to see passage of the rest of his package, which includes an expansion of the payroll tax cut, more funding for government workers’ salaries, and expanded infrastructure spending.

“This is a good first step, but it is only a step,” he said.

Wednesday’s bill includes tax credits for businesses that hire out-of-work veterans and bigger credits for hiring veterans with service-related disabilities, and also repeals a future rule that would require governments to withhold 3 percent of contractors’ payments.

The withholding was designed to be a way to get businesses to pay their fair share of taxes, but government agencies now say it would cost more money to implement the withholding than would be saved by better tax compliance.

Republicans said repealing the withholding is part of their agenda to undo burdensome regulations they say are tying businesses’ hands. But Democrats pointed out that the original regulation was passed by a Republican Congress in 2006 and signed by then-President George W. Bush, also a Republican.

The most controversial part of the bill was the way the withholding repeal was offset. House Republicans rewrote the formula for calculating Medicaid eligibility to bring it into line with other federal programs, saving $13 billion over 10 years.

The White House and Senate Democrats accepted that change, but House Democrats had initially balked.

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