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Forget the Fiscal Cliff. There Are Only 9 Days Left To Help Small Businesses

The Sen­ate has only 9 days to climb off the leg­isla­tive cliff and pass a bill that will help small busi­ness through­out America.

No, I am not count­ing days until we fall off Fis­cal Cliff. I am count­ing the days remain­ing for the Sen­ate to approve the Small Busi­ness Invest­ment Com­pany Mod­ern­iza­tion Act of 2012, also known as H.R. 6504.

H.R. 6504 is only a one sen­tence bill that changes a sin­gle word in exist­ing leg­is­la­tion and mod­estly increases the max­i­mum allow­able size of small busi­ness invest­ment companies.

There is no pork attached to HR. 6504 and no implied polit­i­cal state­ments in the pre­am­ble of the legislation.

It just doesn’t get any leg­isla­tively eas­ier or more straight­for­ward than H.R. 6504. But once the new Sen­ate is sworn in at 12 noon on Jan­u­ary 3rd, it will be too late. H.R. 6504 will die.

The Small Busi­ness Invest­ment Com­pany Mod­ern­iza­tion Act of 2012 changes the amount of lever­age a fam­ily of small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies can receive from the Small Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion from an aggre­gate cap of $225 mil­lion to $350 mil­lion. That means that cer­tain types of small busi­ness lenders and investors called small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies can bor­row more from the SBA than before.

The bill doesn’t change the over­all lim­its for the small busi­ness invest­ment com­pany pro­gram, or oth­er­wise touch any other aspect of the pro­gram in any way. It makes it a lit­tle more attrac­tive for spon­sors of small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies to spend time and money in the small busi­ness sec­tor by allow­ing a lit­tle more scale to indi­vid­ual pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. Since the pro­gram was formed in the late 1950s it has been stan­dard oper­at­ing pro­ce­dure for Con­gress to make sure that the pro­gram remains rel­e­vant by approv­ing increases in allow­able pro­gram par­tic­i­pant size to match infla­tion and eco­nomic growth.

The small busi­ness invest­ment com­pany pro­gram, also known as the SBIC Pro­gram, has been around since 1958 and has not cost the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment a dime since its for­ma­tion. The SBIC Pro­gram is an exam­ple of gov­ern­ment “work­ing” for the ben­e­fit of every­one through public-private partnership.

The equity for small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies comes exclu­sively from pri­vate investors. The SBA’s role is to pro­vide loans to small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies instead of these invest­ment pools get­ting their loans from banks. The SBA loans are made on attrac­tive terms and the SBA charges a fee to pro­gram par­tic­i­pants. It is through these loans to small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies that the SBA helps get money into the hands of small business.

How­ever, it is the man­agers of the small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies who make invest­ment deci­sions and allo­cate cap­i­tal, not the SBA. And, if small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies make good invest­ments, it is the pri­vate share­hold­ers of the small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies who ben­e­fit. On the other hand, if small busi­ness invest­ment com­pa­nies lose money, their share­hold­ers bear the bur­den of loss.

The small busi­ness invest­ment pro­gram does not cost the Fed­eral gov­ern­ment a dime. It charges pro­gram par­tic­i­pants a fee which cov­ers all costs. The SBA seems pretty good at charg­ing the right amount of fee for the pro­gram because they have got­ten it right for the last 54 con­sec­u­tive years.

How­ever, there is a catch. For pri­vate investors to receive the ben­e­fits of the small busi­ness invest­ment com­pany pro­gram they must actu­ally make invest­ments in small busi­nesses in the United States. The invest­ments can be debt or equity, but they have to be actual invest­ments in U.S. small businesses.

So just to review, H.R. 6504 changes a sin­gle word in exist­ing leg­is­la­tion relat­ing to a suc­cess­ful pro­gram that doesn’t have any attached pork or polit­i­cally charged lan­guage. The pro­gram is self-funding and has been a suc­cess­ful and non-controversial con­trib­u­tor to the econ­omy since 1958.

How did the bill do in the House of Representatives?

Sur­pris­ingly well. In the parochial atmos­phere of the House, H.R. 6504 passed with over­whelm­ing bi-partisan sup­port. The offi­cial vote was 359 yea to 36 nea, which is approx­i­mately a 90% vote to approve.

I esti­mate that Approx­i­mately 25,000 employ­ees of small busi­ness will ben­e­fit in 2013 from H.R. 6504, as well as a like num­ber of employ­ees in 2014, 2015, 2016 and every year there­after. Over 10 years that’s a quar­ter of a mil­lion Amer­i­can jobs.

It is not like there is a lot of con­tro­versy in the Sen­ate over this bill. After all, there were three bills intro­duced in the Sen­ate that did the same thing as H.R. 6504. It’s just that the House passed the res­o­lu­tion while the Sen­ate didn’t.

The Sen­ate does not need to incon­ve­nience itself by actu­ally com­ing to Wash­ing­ton and vot­ing. It can sus­pend its rules and approve H.R. 6504 tomor­row, or the next day or the next; only a hand­ful of Sen­a­tors are needed to get this done. But, includ­ing what is left of today, Sat­ur­day and Sun­day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and the morn­ing of Jan­u­ary 3rd, there are only 9 days to pass H.R. 6504 before it dies.  Of actual nor­mal work days there are only two days left, Decem­ber 27th and Decem­ber 28th.  And unfor­tu­nately, accord­ing to the Sen­ate web site H.R. 6504 isn’t sched­uled to be con­sid­ered either day.

One must admit that 25,000 jobs in 2013 isn’t a lot of jobs in the greater scheme of things for the U.S. econ­omy. But to the scheme of 25,000 indi­vid­u­als who would imme­di­ately ben­e­fit from this bill, and the quar­ter of a mil­lion who would ben­e­fit in the years to come, this bill could mean the world. It means the dif­fer­ence between self-reliance and reliance on gov­ern­ment; it means the dif­fer­ent between bring­ing home the bacon and real­iz­ing that a food stamp does not afford a slice of meat.

9 days and count­ing for the Sen­ate to say “yes” to small busi­ness, “yes” to jobs and “yes” to the Amer­ica peo­ple. I know the Sen­ate can pass H.R. 6504; all they have to do is try.

Posted in: economy, Public Policy, SBA, Small Business Lending

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