WASHINGTON ( TheStreet) -- A jobs bill is heading to the Oval Office for the president's signature after the Senate passed the measure Wednesday with some bipartisan support.

The employment stimulus legislation passed the upper chamber of Congress in a final 68-29 vote, garnering approval from 11 Republicans in the process. In a statement, President Barack Obama hoped the package would be the first of several bills meant to help the ailing labor market.

"This bill will provide tax cuts to small businesses that are willing to begin hiring right now, putting people back to work," President Obama said. "I also want to say to the Republicans who voted for this bill that I appreciate their willingness to work with Democrats in a bipartisan fashion to get America moving again."

The legislation encourages employers to hire from the unemployed pool by exempting firms from paying a 6.2% Social Security payroll tax on new hires until the end of the year. If new workers stay on the job for a whole year, the bill also offers employers a $1,000 tax credit.

The package offers some $18 billion in tax breaks, according to The Associated Press. More hopeful predictions say the tax incentives could generate about 250,000 jobs, though opinions differ. Another $20 billion was also passed to extend federal highway and transit programs.

The labor market conundrum has become an increasing focus of lawmakers since the beginning of the year. On the one hand, there's a growing sense that layoffs have ebbed in recent months. The nation's unemployment rate has leveled out at 9.7%. Nonfarm payrolls slid by 36,000 in February, a far cry from the other 700,000 jobs lost during the same month last year.

Still, the jobless ranks are going unemployed longer since businesses both large and small have failed to generate employment growth. Labor Department estimates say that employers have shed about 8.4 million jobs since the recession began.

The Federal Open Market Committee, again, brought attention to the issue on Tuesday. In its eagerly awaited monetary policy statement, the group highlighted some improvement in saying the "labor market is stabilizing." But the public sector economists remained tempered, adding that consumer spending is being held in check because of high unemployment.

Stocks have maintained gains throughout Wednesday's trading. The Dow Jones Industrial Average added 59 points, or 0.6%, at 10,745, while the S&P 500 gained 8 points, or 0.7%, to 1,167.

--Written by Sung Moss in New York
The Associated Press contributed to this report.