In rare bipartisan achievement, Senate easily passes jobs bill

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — Talk about something you don’t see very often anymore.

In an unusually strong bipartisan vote, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a rewrite of federal workforce training programs that are designed to improve job skills and drive down the unemployment rate.

The legislation passed 95-3.

Senators of both parties were optimistic the bill would clear the House soon before going to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

The House has passed similar legislation but GOP House aides said they were uncertain the exact path the Senate bill would take in the House.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act was the benefactor of a rare confluence of political and policy demands from both parties. Republicans wanted to streamline and provide accountability for the often duplicative programs while Democrats wanted to improve and modernize them so they would better meet the needs of today’s workers and employers.

In fact, it took a dozen years, over two presidencies, for lawmakers to agree to the changes, which will eliminate 15 programs and make significant modifications to the programs remaining so they will be more effective.

“There are ten million, six hundred thousand Americans who are unemployed. There are also four million jobs that need to be filled with people with specific skills. This bill deals with the skills deficit in America and is going to match some of those unemployed with some of those jobs.” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, who was one of key negotiators on the bill.

“We’ve doubled down on the programs that work. We’ve improved the programs that have become outdated. And we’ve created a workforce system that’s more nimble and adaptable, better aligned with what our businesses,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, another co-sponsor.

Murray said negotiations with Isakson were boosted because the two have offices next to each other in the Russell Senate building and they would often discuss the legislation while walking to the floor for votes.

“We started with a House proposal and Senate proposal and we all met in the middle,” she said. “It’s an all too rare opportunity for us to get behind a strong bipartisan, bicameral bill.”

“A lot of people who have watched the Senate over the last few years, might have said how in the world did you reach an agreement on anything? You always seem to be fighting,” Isakson said.

By Ted Barrett