- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2011

The House overwhelmingly passed a slim portion of President Obama’s jobs package Thursday, but the striking outbreak of bipartisanship is likely short-lived with no easy follow-up bill on the schedule and both sides still avoiding compromise.

The House bill, which still needs Senate approval, would head off a new rule forcing federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of payments to government contractors — something businesses said amounts to a destructive new tax. Mr. Obama had included the repeal in his September jobs proposal, and Republicans seized on it as common ground.

But even the strong 405-16 vote did little to mask the simmering tensions about the rest of Mr. Obama’s jobs agenda and the way both parties propose paying for their bills.

“Let’s not pretend this is a job-creation bill,” said Rep. Sander M. Levin, a Michigan Democrat who said the change was overdue but didn’t get at fundamental economic problems. “Let’s get busy here on bills that will, indeed, help to promote jobs in the private sector.”

All sides say they want to push for more jobs, but the unity doesn’t extend much past that.

Mr. Obama’s $447 billion plan — which combined infrastructure spending and more money for the unemployed and for state and local public employees with new tax increases and tax cuts — failed to muster a majority in the Democrat-controlled Senate with Republicans and some Democrats objecting to the tax increases.

Now both the House and Senate have decided to slice the plan into pieces and try to pass them.

Senate Democrats went first, pushing a bill to send $35 billion in federal money to states to temporarily keep police, firefighters and teachers on the job, and offset the new spending with a small but permanent surtax on million-dollar incomes. But that measure also failed to gain majority support, much less the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster.

House Republicans, meanwhile, said they would focus on places where all sides agree. Thursday’s withholding bill was the easy choice.

Passed in 2006 under a Republican Congress, and signed by then-President George W. Bush, it required government to withhold 3 percent of payments to contractors, hoping it would cut down on tax cheaters. But businesses objected, saying it was a massive new burden, and federal agencies said it would be expensive and difficult to administer, and all sides now want it repealed.

The vote to repeal the withholding was overwhelming, with just 16 Democrats voting against it. Republicans said it showed what could happen when all sides agreed.

“The president has traveled the country telling Americans ‘we can’t wait’ to pass job bills. Well we aren’t waiting. We continue to pass job bills,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican.

More contentious, though, was the way the GOP proposed paying for the $11.2 billion cost. Republicans wrote a separate bill that changed the way last year’s new health care law decides who is eligible for Medicaid or health exchange subsidies. The shift is expected to save $13 billion.

The White House said this week it supported the eligibility change, but House Democrats were less enthusiastic, and that bill only passed by a 262-157 vote. That opposition could signal problems when the legislation reaches the Senate.

Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat and staunch defender of last year’s health care law, said the change would keep some struggling families from getting access to health care.

“This is a slippery slope,” Mr. Crowley said, You take away opportunities for the middle class to afford health insurance under the ACA by whittling away at it. It’s the middle class who are hurt here.”

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