It's been more than three months since Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), chairman of the Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, introduced his bill to aid small businesses impacted by the terrorist attacks--and it looks like America's small businesses will have to wait until the new year to find out whether they'll see their share of economic relief. With Senate rules allowing individual senators to unilaterally stop action on bills by placing anonymous "holds" on them, a few Republican senators elected to stall consideration of the American Small Business Emergency Relief and Recovery Act of 2001 (S.1499), which would leverage $860 million in federal dollars to make available $25 billion in loans and venture capital to ailing small businesses.
In response, Kerry placed a hold on Senate consideration of several non-judicial White House nominations to federal office in an effort to force Senate action on S.1499. In a letter to Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), Kerry pledged to continue to pressure Senate Republicans and the White House to respond until partisan games are set aside and small businesses get some much-needed economic relief.
"It took the Senate a week to provide billions in a bail-out to the ailing airline industry, and I voted for it because it was critical to keep the airlines up and running," Kerry pointed out back in November. "Now some are working fast and furiously to provide relief to the insurance industry, and the House took just days to pass billions upon billions in giveaways to some of the largest, wealthiest, most heavily subsidized corporations and oil and gas companies in America. Why would Congress stall as thousands of small businesses gasp for relief while trying to fend off bankruptcy?"
Yesterday, Kerry met with Administration officials in an attempt to work out differences and come to a compromise, according to Dayna Hanson of the Small Business Committee's Press Office. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) refused to come to an agreement on key parts of the bill, however, and one anonymous hold remains in place.
Whether a compromise can be found is not clear--but what is clear is that small businesses are hurting. "The key word here is emergency," Kerry told his Senate colleagues December 11. "Small businesses need help now--they have needed help since the terrorist attacks three months ago. It is not the time to use backdoor tactics to deny the Senate the ability to deliver critical emergency aid. I'm asking my Republican colleagues to stop obstructing this legislation and pass [it] today."
Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.