House vote tests job push

The House vote this week on a $30 billion small-business loan fund presents the first test of the Obama administration’s renewed push for more spending on jobs.

President Barack Obama over the weekend sought to stiffen the spine of lawmakers skeptical about additional job-creation programs, painting them as emergency measures without which the economic recovery cannot take hold.

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But for some centrist Democrats, addressing an unemployment rate expected to hover above 9 percent until next year may not trump an election-year desire to stop adding to a deficit projected to reach $1.5 trillion this year.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama came out strongly for spending provisions such as the small-business loan fund, small-business tax breaks and more fiscal aid for states — measures that have all but stalled in Congress since he first pressed for them in his January State of the Union address.

“Taken together, these measures to jump-start private sector job creation, avoid massive layoffs at the local and state levels and help the unemployed are critical and timely ways to further the economic recovery and spur job creation,” Obama wrote. “At this critical moment, we cannot afford to slide backwards just as our recovery is taking hold. We must take these emergency measures.”

House Republicans remain opposed to new spending and have called the small-business loan fund another unpopular bailout. So the Obama administration and House leaders will have to win over the votes of freshman and Blue Dog Democrats facing tough races this fall.

The House will vote on the $30 billion fund Tuesday or Wednesday. The legislation, sponsored by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), would provide money to banks with assets of up to $10 billion, which would in turn provide credit to small firms. Its backers have said that the $30 billion could lead to a total of $300 billion more in small-business credit. The measure also provides $2 billion to states that have their own programs aimed at bolstering private lending for small firms.

Frank on Monday said much of the program would pay for itself, as small businesses would be able to pay loans back to banks, which would then refund the government.

Freshman Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) backed more help for small businesses but wouldn’t commit to voting for the bill because House leaders had yet to find a way to offset the fund’s cost.

“The reality … in my view is that there’s an increasing sense in the House caucus that moving forward, we’re going to get good ideas — and we’re going to have to make sure to pay for them,” he told The Hill.

A Congressional Budget Office report in May said the bill would cost $3.4 billion over five years.

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Also this week, the House will vote on a $3.6 billion tax bill that exempts small businesses from capital gains taxes through 2011 and increases tax deductions for those firms, and particularly for start-ups. The tax package is paid for by new revenue found through an increase in corporate taxes and new limits on the tax breaks for cellulosic biofuel producers and so-called grantor retained annuity trusts, which are often used to provide large financial gifts to family members.

In the Senate, Democrats plan to hold a vote on a $115 billion bill extending jobless aid, Medicare doctor payments, aid to prevent public-worker layoffs, Medicaid money for states and tax provisions that have either expired or are set to expire soon. Because most of that bill isn’t offset and thus would add to the $13 trillion federal debt, Republicans have attacked the measure.

Obama has come out in favor of all those spending provisions.

“Only through this approach of aggressive and well-targeted and temporary actions, alongside measures to ensure a sustainable and responsible long-term budget outlook, will we be able to fulfill our economic potential,” Obama wrote.

Should the small-business measures pass the House this week, they could get consideration in the Senate within days. The upper chamber may take up a version of the small-business legislation after work on the extenders bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office said. It is still unclear which bill.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairwoman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have been pressing for a bill that extends increased loan limits and fee waivers for Small Business Administration loans. Neither Landrieu nor Snowe has backed the $30 billion fund pushed by Obama.