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WASHINGTON, Feb 22 (Reuters) - A modest job-creation bill advanced in the U.S. Senate on Monday as the chamber’s newest Republican bucked his party and sided with Democrats on a $15 billion package of tax cuts and highway spending.
Republican Scott Brown joined four other Republicans, 55 Democrats and two independents to overcome a procedural hurdle that sets up a final vote later this week.
Brown was widely hailed as a conservative hero after his surprise victory in Massachusetts last month gave Republicans enough seats to block most Democratic legislation.
His election prompted President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats to call for increased bipartisanship, and an earlier version of the bill was written with Republican input.
But key Republicans withdrew their support after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid scaled it back and its prospects for passage were uncertain.
Obama called the vote an “important step forward” and vowed to work with both major parties to pass legislation.
“The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs,” he said.
Brown said the bill was not perfect but would help put people back to work.
“I hope my vote today is a strong step toward restoring bipartisanship in Washington,” he said in a statement.
The bill includes a tax credit for businesses that hire unemployed workers, subsidies for state and local construction bonds and money to shore up a highway-construction fund.
CRACKDOWN ON TAX SHELTERS
The bill also includes a crackdown on offshore tax shelters. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that it would lead to $8.7 billion in savings over the coming decade, but that does not take into account the money that would be used for highway construction.
It would create or save 1.3 million jobs, largely through highway construction and other transportation projects, according to Democratic Senator Benjamin Cardin.
Obama and his fellow Democrats say their top priority this year is to bring down the nation’s 9.7 percent unemployment rate before the November congressional elections.
But they also face a growing voter backlash for the hundreds of billions of dollars they approved last year to blunt the impact of the worst recession in 70 years.
Reid plans to pass a series of smaller jobs bills to keep their job-creation efforts in the news while also avoiding the sticker shock of the $155 billion measure passed by the House in December.
Up next: a package of expired tax provisions, an extension of soon-to-expire unemployment benefits, and another provision aimed at helping small businesses, Reid said.
He said these will be open to Republican input.
“I hope this is the beginning of a new day here in the Senate. whether this new day was created by the new senator from Massachusetts or for some other reason, I’m very happy we were able to get this done,” he said.
The Senate bills must be reconciled with the House bill, which focuses on construction spending and aid to states, before Obama can sign it into law. (Editing by Philip Barbara)
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