By Sam Youngman - 09/28/10 12:00 AM EDT
President Obama on Monday concluded a fierce fight with congressional Republicans by signing into law a $42 billion small-business bill.
The signing ceremony ended a months-long battle over legislation Obama had hoped to move in July, before Congress entered a monthlong recess. Instead, the bill was approved by the House last week and will become law just more than a month before the crucial midterm elections.
At a signing ceremony in the White House East Room, where he was surrounded by small-business owners and lawmakers, Obama said the passage and signing of the bill is “a great victory for America’s entrepreneurs.”
While the president thanked Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and George LeMieux (Fla.), the only two Republicans to support the bill, he castigated the rest of the GOP for blocking the bill in the Senate for months.
“I regret that this was blocked for months by the Republican minority,” Obama said. “And that needlessly delayed this relief.”
LeMieux and Voinovich, who are both retiring at the end of the year, “bucked this partisanship that blocked this bill,” Obama said.
Obama also praised Democratic lawmakers, singling out Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.) and Carl Levin (Mich.) and Reps. Al Green (Texas) and Melissa Bean (Ill.). All attended the ceremony.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) used the occasion to blast Obama for not extending the Bush tax cuts across the board. Republicans insist that by letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire, Obama will be increasing taxes on small businesses and further retarding the economic recovery.
“If the president really wants to help small businesses, he should insist that Congress not leave town without cutting spending and stopping his tax hike to help create jobs — particularly small-business jobs,” Boehner said. “By failing to act, the president is turning his back on American families and small businesses.”
The legislation includes $12 billion in tax breaks for small businesses and a $30 billion fund to encourage community banks to make loans to small businesses.
The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) lobbied for the fund, which would provide incentives to banks with less than $10 billion in assets to make loans to small businesses.
Obama first proposed the fund in his State of the Union address, but congressional lawmakers did not cast votes on the measure until months later, after they and the administration rewrote the details of the proposal.
Republicans criticized the fund as another taxpayer bailout similar to the $700 billion bailout, officially known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Republicans frequently called the small-business fund “TARP II.”
The legislation is likely to be the last big piece of legislation aimed at accelerating the economy that Democrats pass before the election.
In his remarks, Obama noted that he has cut taxes for small businesses eight times since taking office, and he said the bill he signed Monday contains eight more cuts.
Small businesses, he said, “have borne the biggest brunt of this recession,” and they are critical to the economic recovery and the growth of the middle class.
“They are the anchors of our Main Streets,” Obama said. “They are part of the promise of America.”
Obama first proposed the $30 billion lending fund in January, and the White House and congressional Democrats made the bill part of a three-pronged strategy for the summer.
The House passed the legislation last week on a 237-187 vote, with 13 Democrats opposing the bill. Rep. Walter Jones (N.C.) was the sole Republican to support the bill.
Bean said the legislation would provide credit to small businesses in desperate need of loans.
“This bill addresses that need by providing up to $30 billion in discounted capital to community banks based on the amount of small-business lending that they do, as well as $12 billion in small-business tax breaks,” Bean said in a statement. “I was proud to personally witness the president sign the bill into law.”
After the signing, Green praised Obama for his “hands-on” work in getting the bill passed.
“This president’s persistence has made a difference,” Green said.
Silla Brush contributed to this report.