WASHINGTON — Five Republican senators broke ranks with their party on Monday to advance a $15 billion job-creation measure put forward by Democrats, a rare bipartisan breakthrough after months in which Republicans had held together to a remarkable degree in an effort to thwart President Barack Obama’s agenda.
The 62-30 vote — two more yeses than the minimum required to get past a procedural roadblock — cleared the way for the Senate to vote Wednesday to approve the measure, which Democrats said would create tens of thousands of new jobs at a time when the unemployment rate is hovering near double digits and is expected to remain high for years to come. But it is not clear whether the House, which has backed a broader approach, will go along without making substantial changes.
With the midterm elections already revving up and the parties facing deep ideological divides over a host of issues, there was no evidence that Monday’s vote was the beginning of a trend. But after being repeatedly stymied by Republicans on a series of initiatives and nominations over the past months, Democrats were elated with the outcome and expressed gratitude to Republicans who sided with them in cutting off a potential filibuster.
“Today, jobs triumphed over politics,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.
Sen. Scott Brown, the newly elected Republican from Massachusetts, was the first member of his party to cast his vote for the measure. He was followed by Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher Bond of Missouri, who voted after it became evident that Democrats would prevail. Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the sole Democrat to vote no.
Brown, breaking with his party’s leadership on one of his first high-profile votes, said he backed the measure grudgingly, since even its sponsors acknowledged it is limited in scope. “It is the first step in creating jobs, not only for the people of Massachusetts but for the people of the country,” said Brown, who said he intended to pursue other proposals, like an across-the-board cut in payroll taxes.
The bill was drafted by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and is built around an approach that has won bipartisan support in the past: a $13 billion plan to give companies who hire unemployed Americans an exemption from paying payroll taxes on those workers through the end of this year. It also provides a $1,000 tax credit to employers who keep new workers on the payroll for at least for 52 weeks.
Obama, who will be meeting with Republicans later this week on health care, praised the Senate action. The White House, facing an erosion of support for Obama among independent voters who say they are not seeing the change that the president promised to bring to Washington, has been looking for opportunities to show that he can help transcend partisanship.