Small Business Aid Bill Blocked in Senate

ABC News' Matthew Jaffe reports:

A bill to boost job growth by increasing lending to small businesses today failed to overcome a procedural hurdle in the Senate.

The vote to end debate on the bill was strictly along party lines, with Democrats backing the measure and Republicans opposing it, but the final vote tally was 58 to 42 because Majority Leader Harry Reid switched his vote to allow him to bring the measure up again at a later time.

Democrats will now have to go back to the drawing board in their push to get the small business aid passed. If and when the bill does pass the Senate, it will then have to go back to the House, since the version that emerged from the House in June has been changed in the Senate this week.

“Our businesses have picked up enough weight. They can’t handle that weight!” roared Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on the Senate floor today in an impassioned plea to pass the bill. “And if we don’t give them some help now – today – then many of them won’t be here…when we come back in September!”

“We can’t solve all the world’s problems with one bill, but we can certainly help small businesses with this bill,” said Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus.

The bill would establish a $30 billion small business lending facility run by the Treasury Department and provide another $12 billion in tax relief. Smaller banks – with under $10 billion in assets – would use the Treasury fund to extend loans to small businesses, helping get these companies back on their feet and hiring new workers. The fund, proponents say, could help leverage up to $300 billion in loans, a massive boost in loosening tight credit markets.

“This bill is not about Wall Street. We've had enough of those,” Landrieu said. “This bill is not about big corporations. They take up 80 percent of the agenda in this place on any given day. This bill is about the 27 million small businesses that need the members of the Senate to stand up for them today.”

For the past mont, the bill has languished in the Senate because of partisan gridlock and a focus on more high-profile legislation. Democrats have focused on other measures such as the Wall Street reform bill and restoring unemployment benefits, while accusing Republicans of trying to run out the clock before the chamber’s summer break starts on Aug. 6.

“Once again,” lamented Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., “a common sense bill that will save taxpayer money is being held hostage by political calculations.”

Across the aisle, Republicans have denounced the small business lending facility as a “mini-TARP” – trying to tap into populist outrage about the controversial $700 billion Wall Street bailout – and they have voiced frustration at Democrats for not allowing them to offer more amendments.

“This bill wasn’t a priority for them until they realized they’d have nothing else to talk about when they went home in August,” argued Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

-Matthew Jaffe

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