The U.S. Senate passed long-delayed legislation in September designed to open up credit to small businesses and award them with other incentives to expand and hire new workers.
Democrats won a 61-38 vote to pass the legislation, joined by two Republicans. The measure would establish a $30 billion government fund to help open up lending for credit-starved small businesses, cut their taxes and boost Small Business Administration loan programs.
The tally gives President Barack Obama and his besieged Democratic allies in Congress a much-sought — but relatively modest — political victory with less than seven weeks to go before Election Day, Nov. 2.
"At a time when small business owners are still struggling to make payroll and they're still holding off hiring, we put together a plan that would give them some tax relief and make it easier for them to take out loans," Obama said Wednesday.
The new loan fund would be available to community banks to encourage lending to small businesses. Supporters say banks should be able to use the fund to leverage up to $300 billion in loans.
The loan fund is opposed, however, by most Republicans, who liken it to the 2008 bailout of the financial system. They warn it would encourage banks to make loans to borrowers who aren't good credit risks.
Democrats say the measure is needed to help small businesses cope with a credit crunch that worsened dramatically after the financial crisis two years ago.
This legislation would also aid lending by lowering Small Business Administration loan program fees and raising loan guarantee and lending limits.
"This small business jobs bill would give small businesses $12 billion in tax cuts. It would increase small business lending. It would help small business owners to get private capital to finance expansion and hire new workers," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat. "And all these things would help small businesses to create as many as a half a million jobs."
The measure had been delayed for months and was successfully blocked by Republicans in July. But on Tuesday, Democrats cracked the logjam with the help of two Republicans, Sens. George Voinovich and George LeMieux. That set the stage for Thursday's vote.
After Senate passage, the bill would return to the House, which is likely to approve it for Obama's signature.
The bill is advancing too late to help lower a 9.6 percent nationwide unemployment rate before Election Day. It follows successful efforts this year to provide a temporary payroll tax holiday to companies that hire the jobless, and to extend assistance to the unemployed, cash-starved state governments and local school districts.