House Democrats on Thursday pushed through a plan to ease credit and cut taxes for struggling small businesses, in what was likely their last best bet to improve the jobs picture before the November midterm elections.
The bill, already approved by the Senate, passed the House on a 237-187 vote, with just one Republican, Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr. of North Carolina, voting yes.
Democrats said the bill was a direct response to small-business owners from across the country who told of the difficulties of staying financially afloat and securing loans during the recession and the global financial crunch.
The measure creates a $30 billion Treasury-backed credit facility to boost business lending by smaller community banks and provides $12 billion in tax cuts.
"In the name of America's small-business people, we will send to President Obama legislation that will unleash hundreds of billions of dollars in loans for America's small businesses, create half a million new jobs, and provide billions of dollars in tax relief," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Mr. Obama said he will sign the "common-sense plan" into law Monday and that it would help provide "loans and cut taxes for millions of small-business owners without adding a dime to our nation's deficit."
But House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, countered that small businesses have "been punished by the Democrats' job-killing agenda" over the past 20 months.
"This bill does nothing to help end the uncertainty that is crippling job creation and hurting small businesses," he said. "Instead, it puts taxpayers on the hook for even more bailouts."
"What we have before us is junior TARP," said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican, referring to the widely unpopular $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill passed in 2008.
Republicans warned the bill would open the door for banks to use taxpayer-funded bailout money to lend to small businesses, which the GOP feared would give the federal government added influence over those businesses.
House Republicans offered their own plan to aid small businesses as part of the rollout of the "Pledge to America" agenda, staged just hours before the House vote Tuesday. Among the provisions: a tax deduction for small businesses on up to 20 percent of their business income.
Last week, Democrats broke a lengthy GOP-led filibuster in the Senate after gaining the support of two Republicans who are not seeking re-election - Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio and George S. LeMieux of Florida.
The bill could be the last legislative success story that Democrats can tout on the campaign circuit this fall as they try to persuade voters to continue to let their party call the shots in both chambers of Congress beyond the end of the year.
But that could prove to be a tough sell given the bleak Election Day outlook for Democrats.
The latest jobs report from the Department of Labor pegged the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, giving Republicans more ammunition in their campaign to cast the stimulus package as a failure.
Meanwhile, recent polls suggest Republicans are poised to take over the House and perhaps the Senate, and that voters are more confident in the GOP's ability to dig the country out of the economic hole.
What was clear is that Democrats were eager to milk the small-business-bill passage for all it was worth, with Mrs. Pelosi's elaborate signing ceremony and a morning press conference Thursday during which House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer took a shot at the "Pledge to America" while hailing the Democratic alternative.
"Pledges are easy to make, but the American voter needs to look at performance," the Maryland Democrat said.
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