WASHINGTON - (AP) - Heralding a rare moment of bipartisanagreement, President Barack Obama signed into law Mondaylegislation aimed at helping unemployed veterans find work whileputting more cash in the hands of companies with governmentcontracts.
The legislation, which creates tax breaks for companies thathire jobless veterans, marks the first proposal from Obama's $447billion jobs bill to be signed into law. The rest of the package ofnew taxes and spending has largely failed to garner support fromRepublican lawmakers. "Because Democrats and Republicans came together, I'm proud tosign those proposals into law," Obama said during a signingceremony Monday. Looming over the brief moment of unity, however, was theapparent failure of lawmakers from both parties to agree on $1.2trillion in spending cuts ahead of a Wednesday deadline by aspecial committee. While Obama didn't directly address the loomingdeadline, he said the American people deserve bold, bipartisanaction.
"My message to every member of Congress is keep going. Keepworking. Keep finding more ways to put bipartisanship aside and putmore Americans back to work," he said.
The veterans' legislation had overwhelming support from bothparties, with the House passing the measure 422-0 and the Senateapproving it 95-0. In addition to the tax breaks for businesses, italso beefs up job-training and counseling programs for unemployedveterans.
The legislation also repeals a 2006 law that would have requiredthe federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent oftheir payments to nearly all contractors. That statute, whichdoesn't take effect until 2013, was supposed to pressurecontractors to pay their taxes in full, but lawmakers now say thelaw would deny cash to companies that need it to hire more workers.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said passage ofthe bill showed that it is possible for both parties to reach aconsensus.
"By focusing on areas of agreement - rather than partisanstimulus bills - we can pass legislation to help foster job growth.Neither of these measures alone is going to solve the jobs crisis,but they'll provide relief to job creators and help Americanveterans," McConnell said.
McConnell praised Obama for inviting Republican Sen. Scott Brownof Massachusetts to attend the ceremony. It was Brown who hadintroduced the 3 percent withholding bill.
Brown was joined on stage with the president by two other GOPlawmakers - Florida Rep. Jeff Miller and Tennessee Rep. Diane Black- as well as a handful of Democrats.
The tax credits for hiring veterans will cost the government anestimated $95 million - a tiny fraction of Obama's overall jobsplan. The credits would be as much as $9,600 for companies hiringdisabled vets who have looked for work for more than half a year.The size of the credit would be based on the worker's salary andhow long the worker was unemployed.
The programs would be financed mostly by extending a fee theVeterans Affairs Department charges to back mortgages.
Erasing the withholding requirement for contractors would reducefederal revenues by an estimated $11.2 billion over the comingdecade. It would be paid for by making it harder for some elderlypeople to qualify for Medicaid by changing the formula used todetermine their eligibility.
Many economists have said annulling the withholding law wouldhave a minimal impact on hiring.