Senate Democrats seek alliance with conservative on small-business bill


Senate Democrats have reached out to Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.), one of the more conservative members of the GOP caucus, to pass legislation aimed at stimulating small business growth.

A senior Democratic aide said LeMieux was approached about supporting the small-business lending fund, a provision of the bill that Democrats have been unable to pass for several weeks. The senior aide said it was too early to know if the provision would be stripped out of the bill for a stand-alone vote.

LeMieux said he’s considering lending his support because the state’s commercial real estate market has been hammered by the poor economy and is starting to follow the slump that struck the state’s housing market during the last several years.

“I haven’t made any final decision, but Florida is definitely a small-business state,” LeMieux said. “I’ve been contacted by a lot of business groups in the state that think the bill is a big deal. A lot of them are going through foreclosure — what happened on the housing side is now happening on the business side.”

Most Senate Republicans have balked at supporting the legislation because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocked many of their amendments from being added to the legislation. They also oppose a provision in the bill that grants the Treasury secretary temporary authority to make capital investments in the small banks that would extend credit to small businesses.

LeMieux did not appear to be concerned by the Treasury provision.

“Mind you, this is a voluntary program, these banks do not have to participate,” he said. “If these banks want to participate and they can get money that they can get to small businesses to help almost two million small businesses in Florida and across the country, I think it’s a good thing.”

Congressional staffers contend removing the Treasury provision would entice at least 10 Republicans into backing the legislation.

The bill provides roughly $12 billion in small-business tax relief and establishes a $30 billion lending pool these organizations have needed since the recession began.

“A recent study by the National Federation of Independent Business found that only half of small businesses trying to borrow are able to get the capital they need; nearly a quarter are not able to get any credit at all,” said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who co-authored the legislation. “Compare that to 2005. Five years ago, 90 percent of small employers were able to get the capital they needed; and only eight percent were not able to get any credit at all.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday hinted that many from his party might support the bill if Reid released his hold on amendments. He also criticized President Obama.

“The president would have the American people believe that somehow we’re trying to hold it up just because the majority leader would rather move onto some of his other legislative priorities than have a vote on a couple of amendments to this bill that would help to create more jobs,” McConnell said. “So either the president is misinformed about what’s really been going on over here, or he’s deliberately mischaracterizing the situation.”