SENATE SENDS JOBS BILL TO WHITE HOUSE…. It took a little longer than expected, but Congress completed its work on another jobs package today, sending it to the White House for the president’s signature.

The Senate approved and sent to President Obama on Wednesday what Congressional Democrats hope will be the first in a series of bills spurring employment by providing tax breaks and other hiring incentives to businesses.

The measure, approved on a bipartisan vote of 68 to 29, would give employers an exemption from payroll taxes through the end of 2010 on workers they hire who have been unemployed for at least 60 days. It also extends the federal highway construction program and takes other steps to boost public building projects.

“Congress is focusing on what the American people want us to focus on — which is jobs, jobs, jobs,” Senator Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat, said on the Senate floor before the vote.

In a surprising display, a whopping 11 Republicans voted with the Democratic majority to pass the legislation. Most GOP senators still opposed the measure, and even mounted a filibuster to prevent a vote from even happening, but given recent history, 11 Republican votes in support of anything seems like a pleasant surprise.

Here’s the final roll call on today’s vote. Note that Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to oppose the jobs bill and vote with 28 Republicans.

President Obama, not surprisingly, has already said he looks forward to signing the measure, called the “HIRE Act,” into law.

To be sure, the legislation could be far more ambitious, but the crux of the jobs bill is a payroll tax cut on newly-hired employees, a series of business tax breaks, and an additional $20 billion in infrastructure/highway spending.

According to leading Democrats, it’s intended to be the first of several bills related to job creation.

“This is just the first, certainly not the last, piece of legislation that we will put forward in relation to jobs,” Schumer said. “If we don’t create jobs, the economy will not move forward.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.