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Senate ready to approve jobs benefits for veterans

— A united Senate is ready to emphatically approve legislation aimed at helping unemployed veterans and companies doing business with the government, a measure that includes the first, tiny slice of President Barack Obama's jobs plan.

A day before Veterans Day, senators were poised to endorse the modest bill Thursday by a wide bipartisan margin. Passage would send the measure to the House, which is not meeting this week but seems likely to give the legislation final congressional approval as early as next week.

The measure includes tax credits of up to $9,600 for companies that hire disabled veterans who have been jobless for six months or more and enhanced job training and counseling for vets.

It also repeals a law requiring federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of their payments to contractors. That statute, which has yet to take effect, was designed to thwart tax cheats, but lawmakers now say it makes it harder for those companies to hire more workers.

For weeks, the two parties have battled to a standoff over the president's $447 billion jobs package, which features a payroll tax break for workers and employers and money for repairing bridges and hiring police officers. Thursday's vote represented a momentary respite in that struggle, which is being waged in the shadow of 2012 presidential and congressional elections sure to be dominated by the still wheezing economy.

Despite their divisions over the nation's economic problems, senators were united in their desire to stage a preholiday vote to help veterans and show they are taking steps designed to protect jobs.

A backdrop to Thursday's vote was White House figures showing that about 240,000, or 12 percent, of veterans who have served since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are unemployed.

Beyond increasing to $9,600 the tax credit for hiring disabled veterans, the bill also would create new tax credits of up to $5,600 for employers hiring veterans who have job hunted at least half a year and $2,400 for those out of work for four weeks or more.