Washington Report: Updates From Capitol Hill

Washington Report: Updates From Capitol Hill

Obama Signs Jobs Bill, Declaring It A First Step
President Barack Obama signed into law on Thursday the HIRE Act, which provides incentives for businesses to hire unemployed workers and receive funding for infrastructure projects. It also allows small business owners to accelerate depreciation on equipment for purchases of up to $250,000.

In a Rose Garden ceremony attended by lawmakers and business owners, Obama warned that the HIRE Act was just a first step and that greater participation from the private sector would be required. “Government can’t create all the jobs we need or repair all the damage that’s been done by this recession,” he said. “We can help to provide an impetus for America’s businesses to start hiring again. We can nurture the conditions that allow companies to succeed and to grow.”

The $17.5 billion act, which the Senate passed on Wednesday with the support of 11 Republicans, has been criticized for focusing more on tax breaks than job creation. “I think they’re right, but I’m not against anything that could get more people working,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota), who attended the bill signing ceremony. “It’s a good thing, but not nearly enough.” Ellison added that the Local Jobs Act, of which he is a primary sponsor, “is the right bill.”

Other critics have said that the provision to exempt payroll taxes through the end of 2010 for employers who hire workers who’ve been out of work for at least two months is not a big enough incentive to hire. Not so, says Charles Baker, president and CEO, MCB Lighting & Electrical in Owings, Maryland. He is preparing to hire 80 employees who will earn $76 per hour for an upcoming project in California.

“The payroll tax burden for that is a significant dollar amount for me. Multiply it by 80 and that’s a lot of money a week. But this almost allows me to hire another five people for the same dollar amount,” said Baker. “It’s a tremendous incentive, and since I do government contracting, it also gives me a competitive edge.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Minnesota), who co-chairs the Congressional Black Caucus jobs taskforce, said the CBC is not ready to relent on its push for legislation that more closely targets the communities many represent. “Issues for the minority community always seem to be a step down the line. When will we be the first step?” he asked.