Small-business aid package advances in Senate

By Brady Dennis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 7:35 PM

Senate Democrats snagged two GOP votes Tuesday to clear the way for a bill aimed at creating jobs in part by giving small businesses easier access to credit.

By a 61-37 vote, the Senate closed debate on the aid package, which includes a $30 billion lending fund and about $12 billion in tax relief for small businesses.

The long-standing logjam over the legislation ended thanks to Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio), who had said he would join Democrats in helping push the small-business relief legislation through the Senate because the economy was "really hurting."

Democrats heaped praise Tuesday on Voinovich, who was joined by fellow Republican George S. LeMieux (Fla.) in helping reach the 60 votes needed to overcome the threat of a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) called the legislation "the most significant thing we've done since the stimulus bill," the roughly $800 billion measure that Congress passed in February 2009.

As the economic recovery has stalled and the appetite for another round of stimulus has all but dried up in Congress, the small-business bill has become an increasing priority for the Obama administration. The president in recent weeks repeatedly called on Senate Republicans to abandon their "blockade" of the legislation.

"Today's vote brings us one step closer to ending the months-long partisan blockade of a small business jobs bill that was written by both Democrats and Republicans," Obama said in a statement Tuesday. "This is a bill that would cut taxes and help provide loans to millions of small business owners who create most of the new jobs in this country."

The package of tax breaks and other aid includes a new $30 billion loan fund, administered by the Treasury Department, that would provide financing to qualified community banks that in turn vow to extend new loans to small businesses. Many of these businesses have faced trouble getting credit during the financial crisis and economic downturn.

Reid and other Democrats have estimated that the legislation could create as many as 700,000 new jobs.

Critics have questioned that figure, noting that expanded access to loans wouldn't cure the lack of consumer demand now discouraging many business owners from expanding and hiring.

If the Senate passes the legislation soon, as expected, it would have to be reconciled with a version passed by the House this summer. But Tuesday marked a key legislative victory for President Obama and Democrats heading into a midterm election largely defined by the struggling economy.

"This is not about the November election," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), a member of the Senate small-business committee, said before the vote. "This is about righting a wrong that was done to small business when Wall Street took Main Street down and cut off access to capital."

The small-business package approved by the Senate wasn't as large and didn't pass as quickly as some Democrats had hoped.

A similar proposal was put forward in October by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who suggested combining resources from the Treasury, Federal Reserve and private banks to create a larger $50 billion pool of money that could be used to lend to small businesses. Still, even Warner sounded optimistic Tuesday.

"Candidly, I wish we had passed this legislation last spring," he said. "But better late than never."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company