The House has approved a $15-billion jobs package that includes an extension for highway and transit programs through December and a financial infusion to strengthen the Highway Trust Fund.

The measure, which the House passed on March 4 by a 217-201 vote, next goes back to the Senate because it differs from the version that the Senate approved on Feb. 24.

Besides extending surface-transportation programs through Dec. 31, the House-passed bill bolsters the Highway Trust Fund through an approximately $20-billion transfer from the general fund.

It also would restore $8.7 billion in highway obligation authority that was rescinded on Sept. 30, when the 2005 Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users expired.

Highway and transit programs are now operating under their fourth stopgap measure since last Sept. 30. It is scheduled to lapse on March 28.

Other elements of the jobs measure include an expansion of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Build America Bonds to include school construction and renewable-energy and energy-conservation projects. The program gives municipalities and other bond issuers a federal subsidy towards the interest rates on those bonds.

Some of the jobs bill's provisions apply to businesses broadly, but could provide benefits to construction companies. The largest item, estimated to cost $13 billion over 10 years, would exempt companies from paying the Social Security payroll tax when they hire someone who has been unemployed for at least 60 days.

In addition, the measure will extend ARRA's provision that allows small businesses to "expense" capital-equipment purchases.