- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Barack Obama on Monday offered a fresh package of aid to small businesses _ “the heart of the American economy” _ in an aggressive push to get big banks that got federal bailout money to do more lending to these struggling entrepreneurs.

“You deserve a chance. America needs you to have that chance,” Obama told small business owners gathered in the White House East Room.

“And as president I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that you have the opportunity to contribute to your community, to our economy and to the future of the United States of America,” the president said.

The White House announced a series of moves to get credit flowing to small businesses. The measures include boosting bank liquidity with up to $15 billion aimed at unfreezing the secondary credit market, reducing lending fees and increasing loan guarantees, and easing the tax burden. The Obama administration also announced that the 21 largest banks receiving government money must report monthly on how much lending they do to small businesses.

The goal is to help those businesses make payroll, buy equipment and maintain or even expand employment as the nation’s economy is bleeding jobs. Obama said roughly 70 percent of new jobs were created by small businesses in the last decade.

Meanwhile, Obama expressed fresh outrage about Wall Street behavior. He said he would try to stop insurance giant American International Group, which has benefited from more than $170 billion in federal bailout funds, from paying $165 million in executive bonuses.

“How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” the president asked.

At the White House, Obama appeared with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who made a direct appeal to community banks to start lending again.

“When banks individually pull back out of a sense of prudence and caution, the collective impact of those actions will make the economy weaker and make each individual bank worse off,” Geithner said. “By pulling back on credit, you push businesses to pull back, and this dynamic can feed on itself.”

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