– GOP: Target America –
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans on Thursday rejected a bill to aid small businesses with expanded loan programs and tax breaks, in a procedural blockade that underscored how fiercely determined the party’s leaders are to deny Democrats any further legislative accomplishments ahead of November’s midterm elections.
The measure, championed by Senator Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, had the backing of some of the Republican Party’s most reliable business allies, including the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business. Several Republican lawmakers also helped write it.
But Republican leaders filibustered after fighting for days with Democrats over the number of amendments they would be able to offer. A last-ditch offer by Democrats to allow three was refused by the Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
“The majority leader has graciously given us three amendments and what I’m saying is three amendments is not enough; he knows that,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We are not expecting to have an unlimited number of amendments, but three amendments will not suffice.”
The demise, at least for now, of the measure signaled that Democrats would fare no better on other legislation that they had hoped to finish before summer recess begins at the end of next week, including a scaled-back energy bill. The Senate is expected to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, but that may be its only substantive action.
With 60 votes needed to advance the legislation, the tally was 58 to 42, with Democrats unanimously in favor and Republicans all opposed. The majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, switched his vote to no at the last minute, a parliamentary step that allows him to call for a re-vote.
Some lawmakers said a deal was still possible. Meanwhile, the Senate turned to a bill that would provide $26.1 billion in aid to states to help cover Medicaid costs and prevent teacher layoffs.
The vote on the small-business bill followed several emotional exchanges on the floor.
“That is the tradition in the United States Senate: majority rules, but you accommodate the rights of the minority,” said Senator Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, who is the senior Republican on the small-business committee. “We’re faced with a procedural impasse here because we’re being denied the opportunity to offer some amendments.”
She also chastised Democrats as dillydallying on the measure, repeatedly pulling it off the floor to deal with other matters. “We need to create jobs in America,” she said. “This bill has been on the floor for three weeks and three substitutes — 81 days.”
Ms. Landrieu harshly criticized Mr. McConnell for blocking the measure, and warned that some businesses might fail.
“Our businesses have picked up enough weight; they can’t handle that weight,” she said in a floor speech. “And if we don’t give them some help now, today, many of them aren’t going to be here — I want the senator from Kentucky to know — when we show up in September.”
The bill would create a $30 billion lending program within the Treasury Department, to be administered through local banks. It would also provide more than $12 billion in tax breaks, and would expand or enhance existing lending programs.
The three Republican amendments that Democrats seemed open to debating would eliminate a provision in the new health care law requiring businesses to file 1099 forms reporting when they buy more than $600 in goods from other businesses, extend a tax credit for biodiesel fuel and extend a credit for research and development.
Republicans had also wanted amendments on other topics, including the estate tax, nuclear loan guarantees, border security and the expiring Bush tax cuts.
Senator George LeMieux, Republican of Florida, who helped draft the bill, said Democrats had taken a bipartisan measure and created a partisan fight over it.
“This small-business bill should pass, and it should pass with relevant amendments,” Mr. LeMieux said. “Before I am a Republican, I am a Floridian and an American, and this bill is good for our country.”
With tensions running high, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, noted that “if just one” Republican had voted with the Democrats — a pointed reference to Mr. LeMieux — the bill would move forward.
Mr. LeMieux shot back, “Half the truth is no truth at all.”