Voinovich breaks with GOP to push for small-business incentives

By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 10, 2010

Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) said he plans to help push a package of small-business incentives through the Senate next week, a move that would give President Obama and congressional Democrats a key victory on the economy in the final weeks before the November midterm elections.

In an interview, Voinovich said he could no longer support Republican efforts to delay the measure in hopes of winning the right to offer additional amendments. Most of the proposed GOP amendments "didn't have anything to do with the bill" anyway, Voinovich said, and amounted merely to partisan "messaging."

"We don't have time for messaging," Voinovich said. "We don't have time anymore. This country is really hurting."

Voinovich said he told Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) that, if a single amendment to reduce paperwork for business owners is considered on the floor, he will add his vote to those of the 59 senators who caucus with Democrats. That would give the majority party the 60 votes needed to overcome a possible GOP filibuster and approve the package when Congress returns to Washington next week.

With Voinovich's help, a top aide to Reid said, Senate leaders expect to approve the package by the end of next week. It would then go to the House for final passage.

The small-business bill is a priority for Obama, who has called repeatedly on Senate Republicans to drop their "blockade" of the measure. He mentioned it again during a speech Wednesday in Cleveland, arguing that delaying the bill's passage is leading small-business owners to put off hiring.

The package of tax breaks and other incentives includes a new loan fund that would encourage community banks to provide up to $30 billion to small businesses, improving access to credit - a problem hurting businesses owners in Ohio, Voinovich said. He cited the case of a constituent who was turned down for a loan by 42 banks. "I happen to believe these small-business people can't get money to save their souls," he said.

Voinovich, a longtime champion of federal transportation spending, said he also plans to work with Obama to pursue a six-year reauthorization of the federal highway bill. Voinovich said the president called him personally this week to ask for his support but offered few details about the plan - including how it would be funded.

Voinovich has argued for raising the gas tax, the traditional source of funding for federal roads projects. When he made that argument to Obama, however, the president "didn't respond," Voinovich said. "He just listened."

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