- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A House Republican legislative package aimed at easing securities regulations for small businesses passed a key test vote in the Senate Wednesday, clearing a path for one of the first significant bipartisan bills to pass Congress this year.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 76 to 22 to end debate on the so-called Jobs Act and proceed to a final vote Thursday. The measure is expected to pass, though not before Democrats try a final time to make changes.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted down two Democratic amendments: a substitute version of the bill intended to beef up investor protections and a provision to extend the life of the federal Export-Import Bank.

Before Thursday’s final-passage vote, the Senate will take up two more Democratic amendments regarding investor protections and transparency. Approval would send the bill back to the House for further consideration.

“The bill is imperfect, and that perhaps is an understatement,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat. “Those two amendments are not going to make this bill perfect, but it’s going to make the bill a lot better.”

The House package includes six bills, three of which previously passed the chamber with wide bipartisan support but stalled in the Senate. House GOP leaders repackaged the measures, and the bundle easily passed the House earlier this month.

The Jobs Act is designed to reduce bureaucratic red tape by easing some Securities and Exchange Commission regulations, giving small businesses better access to capital.

One of the bills would make it easier for small businesses to go public by increasing the offering threshold for companies exempted from SEC registration to $50 million from $5 million. The measure initially passed the House in November by a vote of 421-1.

“This [package] is exactly the kind of thing Americans have been asking for — greater freedom and flexibility,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “That’s one of the reasons it’s had such overwhelming bipartisan support.”

No Republican senators voted against the package.

If the Jobs Act passes the Senate, it will be a victory for House Republican leaders, who crafted the measure to rebut President Obama’s claims that their party hasn’t done enough to help small businesses and entrepreneurs.

But several Senate Democrats say the bill doesn’t do enough to protect investors and small businesses from fraud.

“Its flaws are deeply worrisome. It threatens to dampen investment, and therefore dampen job growth,” said Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat. “Unless we protect investors, they will not invest in our economy.”

The White House supports the House package, though it also backs Senate Democratic efforts to strengthen investor safeguards.