Obama secures crucial vote for small business plan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Retiring Senator George Voinovich will break ranks with fellow Republicans and provide the crucial 60th vote needed in the Senate to pass President Barack Obama's small business lending package, an aide said on Friday.
Voinovich's decision to help Democrats end a Republican filibuster in the 100-member Senate will help Obama secure a big legislative victory on the economy ahead of congressional elections in November in which Democrats face large losses.
At a news conference on Friday, Obama said he was pleased to see Voinovich would no longer back the Republican "blockade" of the bill. Obama accused Republicans of delaying the bill to play election-year politics.
"I still don't understand why we didn't pass that two months ago," Obama said.
Republican opponents of the legislation, which creates a $30 billion fund the government would invest in independent community banks to encourage lending to small firms, have called the proposal a junior version of the controversial government bailout of Wall Street.
Voinovich, who decided not to run for re-election in Ohio, said he would support the small business package in an interview published in Friday's Washington Post. Voinovich spokeswoman Jennifer Scoggins confirmed that he will back the legislation.
Ohio, along with other Midwestern industrial states, has been hit hard by the economic downturn. The unemployment rate in Ohio stood at 10.3 percent in July, a good deal higher than the 9.6 percent national rate.
Voinovich told the Washington Post that time was running out, the "country is really hurting," and he could no longer support Republican efforts to delay the measure in order to offer more amendments.
Obama said he "could not agree more" with Voinovich.
With Voinovich's support, the Senate could clear the package by the end of next week and send it to the House of Representatives for final approval. The House has backed a version of the bill previously.
Voinovich said to secure his vote, the Senate needed to consider an amendment that would kill a newly enacted measure that requires businesses to file IRS tax forms on every purchase above $600. Small business groups said the requirement, which was enacted as part of the healthcare overhaul, would impose costly compliance burdens on businesses.
The small business package also includes about $12 billion in tax incentives for small businesses.
The Independent Community Bankers of America backs the legislation and it has been a top priority for Obama, who pushed for the bill during a visit to Ohio last week.
Obama says the $30 billion fund will help small firms obtain the financing they need to grow and hire new workers.
(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
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