Since 1980, small businesses have generated over 60 percent of all new jobs in this country. Small businesses are the best hope that 13 million unemployed Americans have for finding a new job and getting back on their feet. There’s nothing more important to moving our recovering economy forward than revving up small businesses.
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives took a step toward doing just that, by approving — by an overwhelming majority (390–23) — a package of six bills that will boost access to private capital for small-business expansion and job creation. Not only did this package — the JOBS Act, introduced by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) — win bipartisan support, it has been endorsed by the White House.
There is an opportunity right now for Congress and the president to come together and do the right thing. Which brings us to the proverbial fork in the political road: Will the legislation move forward in the Democrat-controlled Senate?
The worst that has been said about the JOBS Act is that it is “modest” and “old.” It’s probably fair to characterize the legislation as relatively modest in effect. But the JOBS Act won’t cost taxpayers a dime, and will help small businesses to expand — which is why leaders on both sides of the political fence acknowledge that it will be good for jobs and growth.
Old, yes, many of these bills have been around for awhile. A bill I sponsored that assists community banks to raise private-sector capital to increase lending to small businesses (S. 1941), along with several other bills included in the package, actually passed the House months ago by more than 400 votes. The fact is that parts of the JOBS Act are old because the Senate hasn’t acted on them.
Despite some efforts to underplay the significance of this legislation, House Democratic leaders and the White House have been clear about backing the bill. The White House issued an official statement of support two days prior to the House vote, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) was among those who spoke favorably of the bill on the House floor last week.
The JOBS Act deserved this support, and kudos to both Democrats and Republicans who voted for it. And let’s add that there is nothing small or old about bipartisan cooperation in the United States Congress. It’s big, refreshing, and welcome news, particularly for millions of unemployed.
Unfortunately, the early signals from Senate Democrats aren’t encouraging. When asked about the JOBS Act last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was non-committal, almost dismissive. He referred to plans for Senator Tim Johnson (D., S.D.) to introduce a different piece of legislation that would be focused on small businesses. Senator Reid’s underlying message seemed to be clear: A bill that passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not be considered in the Senate, no matter what its merits.
And so we’ve arrived at one of those forks in the road, a small but nevertheless significant intersection. For if the Senate leadership were to relent and allow consideration of a bill that already passed the House with strong bipartisan support, there would be a degree of hope that a divided Congress could come together — even in an election year — and work in the public interest.
In addition to our high unemployment, gas prices are soaring to record levels. Our debt surpassed the size of our economy months ago, and entitlement programs are speeding the federal government toward bankruptcy. Congress can’t take the year off, election or no election.
— Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. senator from Texas.