President Obama today will head to a Tastee sub shop in New Jersey to sell his jobs agenda to small business owners, but a bill specifically for that purpose has been stymied in the Senate for the last month.
With the country's unemployment rate hovering near 10 percent and its economic recovery "unusually uncertain" as Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke put it, one of the most obvious moves to boost job creation would be to help the small businesses that account for around two-thirds of new job growth.
But for the past month the Senate has yet to pass the bill that emerged in June from the House of Representatives, setting it aside time and time again.
"I hope that in the coming days we'll once again find common ground and get this legislation passed," President Obama said Tuesday at the White House. "We shouldn't let America's small businesses be held hostage to partisan politics – and certainly not at this critical time."
This afternoonin New Jersety, the President will again urge the Senate to act. Back in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he hopes the Senate can finish work on the bill by late today.
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 – those with under $10 billion in assets – would use the Treasury fund to extend loans to small businesses, helping get tthem back on their feet and hiring new workers.
However, the small business measure has gotten stuck in the Senate, stymied by partisan gridlock and a focus on more high-profile legislation such as Wall Street reform.
Republicans have denounced the small business lending facility as a "mini-TARP," referring to the government's $700-billion financial-system bailout program. Democrats have elected to work on other bills, including the financial regulatory overhaul, unemployment benefits, and campaign finance reform.
In typical Beltway politics, both parties have blamed one another for the lack of action on the small business front.
President Obama earlier this month pointed the finger at the GOP minority.
"Again and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said 'no' and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote," he said in his weekly address on July 17.
But that claim, as FactCheck.org pointed out, is not true. Republicans failed to block the Democrats' attempt to move forward with the legislation when it came to a vote in late June. The bill passed 66-33, with eight Republicans backing the measure. But the bill was then set aside until last week, when the Senate took it up once again.
"If the President wants to criticize somebody about slowing this bill down, he's got the wrong party," the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell said today. "He needs to direct his criticism at Democrats, not Republicans. The fact is, Democrats had other priorities."
With the House leaving for the August recess this Friday and the Senate next Friday, time is of the essence. And with the Senate still trying to pass a scaled-back energy bill, a food safety measure, and confirm Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan before the break, impatience is building on Capitol Hill.
Congress Contends with Crowded Agenda
"Let's not delay another day," warned Washington state Democrat Maria Cantwell on Tuesday. "Wall Street certainly got its due, certainly got help and support from many in the previous administration. Let's make sure that small businesses and Main Street gets the support it deserves and move ahead."
The 27 million small businesses in America, she noted, were "the hardest hit by the recession," accounting for around two-thirds of the country's job losses.
"Congress is on the verge of what we hope will be enactment of a very strong package of tax measures for small businesses and ways to help them get credit so they can expand," Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner told ABC News' Jake Tapper last Sunday on "This Week."
Small businesses across America – and the workers who depend on them for jobs -- hope that help comes sooner rather than later.