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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Obama Wrong on GOP, Small Business Criticism

In his weekly address, President Obama blasted Republicans for using "procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote" on loan help for small businesses. But that’s false.

Democrats have proposed no such "simple, up-or-down vote" on the small business benefits alone. What Republicans have blocked are votes on extending unemployment benefits, something Democrats once packaged with one part of Obama’s proposals to benefit small business. (And a number of Republicans say they’re not opposed to extending unemployment insurance benefits — they’re against spending money to do so without finding offsetting spending cuts or revenue increases elsewhere. But that’s another story.)

The tussle over the unemployment benefits is well-documented, but what about help for small businesses? Here’s what Obama had to say in his July 17 address:

Obama: A lot of small businesses still have trouble getting the loans and capital they need to keep their doors open and hire new workers. So we proposed steps to get them that help: Eliminating capital gains taxes on investments. Establishing a fund for small lenders to help small businesses. Enhancing successful SBA programs that help them access the capital they need.

But again and again, a partisan minority in the Senate said “no,” and used procedural tactics to block a simple, up-or-down vote.

That sounded to us like a reference to the small-business jobs bill, another of the measures Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has put on his priority list for passage before the August recess. So, what’s the story with that bill? A version was passed by the House in mid-June; Reid brought it to the Senate floor on June 29. There was a cloture vote that same day, indicating that Senate Democrats had to block a filibuster to move forward with the legislation. But the Democrats succeeded in the effort, with a 66-33 vote invoking cloture. Eight Republicans joined the Democrats on that vote. After that, there’s been no movement on the bill, no other votes whatsoever. Republicans didn’t "block" the bill, as Obama said, nor were there any tactics used "again and again."

When we asked the White House to which "procedural tactics" Obama was referring, an official also cited one filibuster of a version of the unemployment benefits package that included the extension of a small-business loan program enacted by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s fair to say that Republicans tried — but failed — to block debate of the small-business jobs bill initially, and they successfully blocked a vote on an unemployment benefits measure that included small-business loan assistance. But Obama is wrong in saying the GOP employed "tactics" (plural) "again and again" to block "a simple, up-or-down vote" on small-business measures.

As for that small-business bill? The Senate Democratic leadership has given a higher priority to other bills, including the financial regulation bill that was passed last week and the unemployment benefits bill. Regan Lachapelle, deputy communications director for Reid, told us: "We have been working to get an agreement with Republicans on amendments" to the small-business jobs bill. And the Wall Street bill interrupted consideration of that, she said. "We have a vote on an extension of unemployment insurance [Tuesday] at 2:30 pm and expect to return to the small business jobs bill when we complete action on unemployment insurance extension."

Update, July 20: On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate ended the Republican filibuster of legislation extending unemployment benefits, voting 60-40 to move forward with the bill.