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Why Congress is suddenly finding common ground on jobs bill

For the first time, the Senate has allowed a piece of Obama's jobs bill to come to the floor for a vote. Eager to do something before Election 2012, both sides of the aisle are looking for points of agreement.

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Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Ariz., left, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., right, and others, walk to the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, last week, to deliver a defeat to Democrats and President Obama on the stimulus-style jobs agenda, blocking a $60 billion measure for building and repairing infrastructure like roads and rail lines.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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A divided Congress will attempt to shed its “do nothing” moniker by passing a small piece of President Obama’s $447 billion jobs bill this week.

After 10 months of clashes over big bills – repeal of president’s signature health care reform, then gridlock over a new White House jobs bill – leaders on both sides of the aisle are turning to smaller bills with some prospect of bipartisan support.

The Senate this week takes up a House-passed bill to boost job creation by repealing a 3 percent tax on government contractors, set to take effect in 2013. It’s the first House-passed portion of the president's jobs bill to be allowed on the Senate floor for a vote. 

In a show of rare bipartisan agreement, the Senate voted on Monday to begin debate on the bill by huge margin, 94 to 1. More than 15 other House bills, mainly focusing on creating jobs by curbing government regulation, are languishing in the Senate, with little prospect of a floor vote. 

But with congressional approval ratings now at record lows – in the single digits – neither party wants to head into 2012 elections with a record of near-zero legislative accomplishment, especially on a topic as critical to voters as jobs.

In a nod to Veterans Day this week, Senate Democrats are also proposing a package to help returning veterans find jobs in a tough market environment. The amendment, which draws on work by the veterans affairs committees in both the House and Senate, proposes tax credits for firms that hire veterans, and increases incentives for hiring disabled veterans.

In a another shift in tone, neither majority Republicans in the House or majority Democrats in the Senate insisted on “poison pill” features that derailed previous bids at a jobs bill, such as raising taxes on the rich (a nonstarter for Republicans) or rolling back environmental regulations (unacceptable to Democrats). 

The veterans amendment “contains many provisions supported by Republicans,” said Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, in a floor speech on Tuesday.  “So maybe we’re making some progress here.”

“There's a lot we can agree on when it comes to jobs legislation,” he added. “That's where the focus should actually be.”

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