WASHINGTON President Barack Obama urged the Senate on Friday to complete work on a small-business jobs plan that has been a subject of partisan wrangling but could come up for a vote within the next few days.
Obama said he hopes "we can now finish the job" and approve the plan, which includes a $30 billion small-business lending fund, a key part of his strategy to boost job growth as the country fights its way out of recession.
The fund would provide $30 billion in capital that the government could invest in independent community banks with assets of less than $10 billion to increase lending to small businesses. Backers say the fund would support as much as $300 billion in new loans to small businesses,
Republican opponents have criticized the plan as another bank bailout, similar to the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program started in 2008 to prop up Wall Street firms during the financial crisis but has angered many voters.
Small businesses account for a large portion of job creation in the U.S. economy and easing the stubbornly high unemployment rate is considered essential as Obama and his fellow Democrats fight to keep their congressional majorities in November's elections.
"Ultimately, our goal is to make sure the people who are looking for a job, can find it," Obama told reporters. "That's why it's so important for the Senate to pass the additional steps that I've asked for."
U.S. unemployment rate was 9.5 percent in June.
The U.S. House approved the plan last month and it moved a step closer to final passage late on Thursday when 60 senators, including Republicans George LeMieux and George Voinovich, backed the lending fund as an amendment to the broader small business bill.
The broader bill, which would provide some tax breaks to small firms, among other things, is still subject to amendment and the parties have been wrangling over what should be included or not. It could come to a vote before Congress leaves for its August recess.
Obama pushed for the bill in remarks touting three other economic measures that he signed into law this week -- his sweeping Wall Street regulatory overhaul, a law to crack down on improper government payments and an extension of unemployment insurance for about 2.5 million Americans.
"I hope we can now finish the job and pass the small business jobs plan without delay and without additional partisan wrangling," Obama said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said the bill would bring new rules and regulations while increasing spending at a time of record U.S. budget deficits.
"In the middle of a debt crisis, Democrats can't seem to pass trillion-dollar spending bills fast enough," he said. "And in the middle of a jobs crisis, their signature piece of jobs legislation appears to be a bill that borrows $34 billion from our grandchildren to help folks who can't find a job in the environment Democrats have created over the past 18 months."
(Editing by Bill Trott)