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Senate Passes Bill to Aid Small Business

Updated: 2:55 p.m.

The Senate passed a small-business jobs package Thursday, delivering a legislative victory to Democrats in the runup to the midterm elections.

The long-stalled measure passed, 61-38, with all Democrats and GOP Sens. George Voinovich (Ohio) and George LeMieux (Fla.) voting for it. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) did not vote.

Small Business Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who crafted the bill along with Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), said the measure gives “help and support to small businesses in smart, strategic and fiscally responsible ways.”

But Republicans said the bill essentially creates a bailout for community banks, and further claimed the measure offered only temporary tax relief to small businesses. They unsuccessfully pushed an amendment by Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) to repeal a piece of the health care law affecting small businesses. The amendment was defeated Tuesday.

President Barack Obama criticized Republicans Wednesday for stalling action on the bill, which he said “should not have taken this long to pass.” But Obama heaped praise on Voinovich and LeMieux for supporting the bill, which now heads back to the House for consideration.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced just before the final vote on the bill that Senators will not vote again until Tuesday afternoon, when they will take up a motion to consider the defense authorization bill. But just after making that announcement, Reid acknowledged the Senate is unlikely to approve the measure before adjourning for the midterm elections because of a time crunch on the floor and staunch GOP opposition over a handful of controversial provisions, including a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has threatened a filibuster, and in a floor exchange with Reid blasted the “unfortunate and growing politicization” of the defense bill.

It is unclear if Reid has the 60 votes required to overcome GOP opposition to the defense measure. Other options for floor action include a package of tax extenders and a continuing resolution to fund the government. Democrats also hope to pass an extension of some of the tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush, although a proposal that could win 60 votes on the Senate floor has yet to surface. The tax cuts extension could instead be considered during the lame-duck session.

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