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Payroll tax relief passes House amid criticisms

WASHINGTON — The House passed a bill last week that seeks to spur job creation by offering payroll tax relief to companies that hire new workers.

The tax break was the centerpiece of a $17.6 billion bill that also would extend federal highway construction funding for a year and continue an infrastructure bonds program and certain expense deductions for small business.

Democratic sponsors said the package was intended to combat persistent unemployment, and would be followed by other legislation to attack the problem.

The bill passed 217-201, after House leaders comforted conservative Democrats by adding language to offset some of its costs, and liberals by directing some highway funding to small businesses.

Republicans scoffed at the idea that the bill would be effective. No matter what payroll tax benefits are offered, they said, companies will be reluctant to add workers as long as the economy is dragging.

Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted against it.

Logjam broken on jobless benefits

The Senate broke a logjam in passing a bill that extends unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for people out of work.

Senators voted 78-19 for the package after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., withdrew an objection that had held up the measure as several hundred thousand people flirted with having their jobless benefits expire.

Bunning argued that Congress should pay for the $10 billion that it would cost to extend the benefits another 30 days. He noted President Barack Obama enacted a “pay as you go” law just weeks ago.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., argued the law allows for emergencies and that extending unemployment benefits for Americans qualified.

Reid voted for the bill. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., voted against it.

As part of the deal, Bunning was allowed to offer an amendment that would have offset the $10 billion cost by removing part of a tax break the paper industry enjoys on wood pulp used to make bio-fuels.

It was killed on a procedural vote, 43-53. Ensign voted for the offset. Reid voted against it.

Bill limits school use of restraints

Voting 262-153, the House passed a bill that would limit the use of restraints and other forms of questionable discipline in public and private schools that receive federal money.

The bill would set guidelines on the permissible use of physical restraints on unruly students, such as strapping them into chairs or putting duct tape over their mouths. It also would limit the practice of locking students in secluded areas.

The bill grew from studies into cases of apparent school child abuse, including students with disabilities. Sponsors said state laws were not always effective, and the federal government needed to step in.

Opponents said the bill was a federal intrusion into school systems that traditionally are overseen by local communities and states.

The bill hasn’t cleared the Senate yet.

Berkley and Titus voted for the bill. Heller voted against it.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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