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Mr. LeMIEUX. Mr. President, I wish to thank my colleague from Louisiana, Senator Landrieu, the chair of the Small Business Committee, who has been a great leader on this topic. It has been my pleasure to work with her on this measure to try to help our struggling small businesses.
I think Florida, maybe more than any other State, relies and depends upon its small businesses. We are the fourth largest State in the country, but we are a State that grew so fast, so quickly, that even though we have 18.5 million people, we do not have a lot of big businesses.
The businesses in Florida--nearly 2 million of them--are small. Not one Fortune 100 company is headquartered in Florida. Now we are trying to get there--we have a couple that are on the cusp--and we will. But Florida had this meteoric rise in population over the past 20 or 30 years. It was built on construction and growth and tourism and all the reasons why people want to come to our beautiful State.
But the jobs that have been created over the years are from small firms. They are the restaurant, the local diner, the beach shop, the tailor, the laundromat, the auto mechanic. These are the businesses that are creating the jobs in Florida. Many of them are centered around the service economy.
We are doing a lot to diversify our economy. But the truth of it is, they are the mainstream of Florida's economy, and they are struggling. This is the worst recession in anyone's memory in Florida, even worse than the recession we had in the 1970s.
Our unemployment rate peaked over 12 percent. It is still at 11.5 percent. While this sounds strange, 11.5 percent may not be better than 12 percent in this circumstance because what happens on unemployment rolls is that after a certain amount of time, people drop off and are no longer even looking for work. The truth of it is, if you are walking down the street in Florida and you see another adult walking down the street who is not retired, there is a one in five chance that person is unemployed or underemployed.
Times are tough. There are some signs of life. Some things are getting better. But for Floridians, this is the most difficult economy we have ever experienced. We have the second highest mortgage foreclosure rate. I read recently that our folks are No. 1 in the country in being behind in their mortgage payments.
So our small businesses, the creators of jobs, the folks who, as Senator Landrieu said, create 65 percent of the jobs nationwide--I bet you that number is much higher in Florida--need help. This bill is going to help those small businesses. It is not going to cure the problem overnight. Let's be realistic. But it is going to help.
The base bill does a lot of good things for small businesses. There are a lot of tax cuts in this bill. It is going to exclude small business capital gains by 100 percent. The bill will temporarily increase further the amount of the exclusion from the sale of qualifying small business stock. It is going to help something on carryback interest. It means a lot to small businesses. It will extend the 1-year carryback for general business credits to 5 years for certain small businesses. This alternative minimum tax hurts our small businesses. This bill will allow certain small businesses to use all types of general business credits to pay less taxes. When they purchase equipment, it is going to allow them to accelerate that depreciation. When small businesses get to keep more of their money, they get to keep more of their employees, and they get to hire new ones. That is just in the base bill.
This amendment Senator Landrieu and I and others are working on is going to put money into our local community banks that will be lent to small businesses. There has been a lot of confusion about the bill, and some of my friends and colleagues on my side of the aisle do not like it. I hope they are going to come around. There is a concern that this is going to be similar to what happened in the TARP bill. But these two bills are very different, and this amendment is very different. Let me explain why.
TARP went to the big banks that were failing at the end of 2008, a lot of which were selling mortgage-backed securities and other exotic investments they should not have been selling, and they put their assets at risk and, therefore, put the American economy at risk.
This has nothing to do with that. These are small banks. This is the banker you know down the street, the banker who is at your rotary or at your Kiwanis, whom you see at church or synagogue. This is not some Goldman Sachs banker. This is your local community banker who loans to the laundromat, the tailor, the construction business--the folks who employ people in your hometown.
This program is optional. No bank has to take it. If they are a small bank, though, if they have assets under $10 billion, they will get an ability to get some more money they can lend out to small businesses that create jobs.
That is not a partisan issue. We all should support that. The money that comes back in is going to be repaid, and not only are we not going to increase the deficit or the debt, as my colleague from Louisiana just said, the
Federal Government will actually make money. That is not something we hear a lot about in Washington.
So it is not going to increase the deficit. It is not going to increase the debt. It is not going to increase taxes. It is going to lend money to local banks, to loan that money to small businesses, to help them in this difficult time.
When I drive down the streets of Florida--whether it is in Orlando, Tampa, Pensacola, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Naples, all across the State--we have a lot of strip shopping centers. It is the way Florida was built. It is nice. You get to park in front, go in, buy your goods or services, and go home. But you can see them from the roads. When I drive down these main thoroughfares and I look over, what I see are empty buildings--empty buildings--because our small businesses have gone under because they no longer can pay their rent, because they no longer have the customers they used to have, and because they no longer can get lending from their bank.
What is particularly of interest to Floridians about this bill--I am sure this is true in other States, such as California and Arizona and Nevada, other States that had this big real estate-based economy that boomed in the past years--what happens to your local businesses is that a lot of times the loans they are getting now are tied to real estate they own.
They may own a small parcel in a small building where they operate their business. They have a mortgage against that property. They are paying their payments, but the asset, the real estate, has fallen in value tremendously. So now, when the regulators come in and look at the bank's books to make sure the banks are operating OK, they say: Wait a minute. The mortgage that Joe's business has is technically in default because the asset their loan is against has fallen in value by 50 percent. I have business owners coming to me all the time telling me their banks are putting them in technical default because of the depreciation of the asset which is being held against the loan, which is their real estate.
So this is an extreme and an enormous problem in Florida. This bill will put more money in the small banks to help lend to businesses to help them bridge the gap until this economy recovers.
I also wish to speak a little bit about another amendment to this bill I have been working on with Senator Klobuchar that talks about export promotion--another issue that is not partisan. We all want more exports. Exports in Florida are a big deal. They are a huge part of our economy, being the gateway to Latin America. We sell our goods overseas. But small businesses, and even medium-sized businesses, whether they are in Illinois or Louisiana or any other place in this country, often don't know the services the Federal Government--the Department of Commerce--can give them to open the doors of trade and allow them to sell their products overseas.
So what Senator Klobuchar and I are doing with this amendment, with export promotion--and she has done a tremendous job on this issue--is putting more resources into the Department of Commerce to go back to 2004 levels--because we have had to make a lot of cuts there--in order to provide more folks who can then go out and show businesses how they can sell their wares, to create more sales, so they can grow their business and hire more people.
That is good for everybody's economy. I am not a big believer in government spending, but when we are spending to help businesses pursue their economic and entrepreneurial opportunities, that is good for America. In fact, when the Department of Commerce spends $1 million on export promotion, their estimated return is $57 million--a 57-to-1 economic return. So that is just another very good part of this bill.
I hope we have an opportunity to vote on this bill. We may even have an opportunity to vote on this bill and this amendment today. Our leadership is working on some other amendments. I hope those opportunities will be provided.
This is a bill we all should agree upon. It is a bill that should have 70, 80, or more votes in this Chamber, and we should get it done because it would be good for the small businesses, the job creators of our country, in their time of need.
I wish to thank my colleague from Louisiana who has been a great leader on this issue. I wish to thank her for working with me in order to lend my efforts to this bill to help to improve it in ways that I thought would be important for this country and for my home State of Florida. I also wish to recognize my colleague, Senator Klobuchar, who is here. She has done such great work on the export portion of this bill.
With that, I will turn back my time to my colleague from Louisiana.
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Mr. LeMIEUX. I again thank my colleague from Louisiana and all my other colleagues. I see the Senators from Washington and Minnesota, who have worked on this bill are here. I think this is a very important piece of legislation, and that is why I have worked in a bipartisan way with my friend from Louisiana, who has been a leader on this bill and has put this bill together.
I know this is not without controversy. Some of my colleagues were here earlier, and they do not support this bill. I have enormous respect for my friends from South Dakota and Tennessee, and I appreciate their perspective, but I respectfully disagree with it. I think it was Ronald Reagan who said that if we agree on something 90 percent of the time, that means we are friends, and we are friends. I have tremendous respect for their views. But this bill does not bring with it, I believe, the problems my friends pointed out. This legislation helps small businesses, and in my State of Florida, that really matters because while we are the fourth largest State in the country, we are a small business State, not a big business State. We do have our share of big businesses, and we will grow more in the future. But because of Florida's meteoric rise in population over the past 20 or 30 years, we don't have those Fortune 100 companies headquartered in our State as other States do. Instead, we are a collection of small businesses, for the most part--nearly 2 million small businesses in Florida.
But during this recession--the worst recession Florida has seen in anyone's recent memory--those small businesses have been hurting. When I drive down the interstates and the State roads of Florida and I go past the small strip shopping centers and small buildings that house those small businesses that employ so many Floridians, unfortunately I now see a lot of dark and vacant buildings because these businesses have not been able to make it through this recession. Our unemployment in Florida is nearly 12 percent, and it may be worse than that because many no longer seek employment. If you figure the underemployed along with the unemployed, one in five adult Floridians who are able to work either doesn't have a job or doesn't have enough of a job. We are No. 2 in mortgage foreclosures, and we are No. 1 in the country in being behind on our mortgage payments. So Florida is hurting. There are signs that things are getting better, but we are struggling. And more than perhaps any other State, our small businesses need help.
This bill does that in a commonsense way, and let me explain why. The bill provides $30 billion for local community banks. This isn't Goldman Sachs, this isn't AIG, this is the banker down the street--the one you see at church or synagogue, the one in your Kiwanis or Rotary, the one who shops in the same stores you do. This is not some Wall Street banker but your local banker. So the bill provides $30 billion for local banks to make loans to small businesses.
The first reason it is not like the other program that was passed to bail out Wall Street is it is optional. The Treasury Secretary and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve are not going to get a bunch of local banks in a boardroom one night and pressure them into taking this money, as was done with TARP. It is voluntary. If they do not want it, they do not have to take it.
Second of all, this isn't going to increase the deficit. In fact, unlike most programs here in Washington--and my friends on the other side know I come to the floor all the time worried about the way we spend money in this Congress, worried about our debt and deficit, worried about what it will mean for our kids and our future--this piece of legislation is actually going to return more than $1 billion to the Treasury over time--so not a deficit, a surplus.
Again, the program is voluntary, it doesn't create a debt or deficit, and it doesn't create big government. It puts the money in the hands of community bankers to lend to small businesses, the folks who create jobs. My friend from Louisiana had a chart up earlier reflecting that 65 percent of all jobs are created by small businesses. I believe that number is far greater in my home State of Florida.
So who supports this amendment on which we have been working? Well, in Florida, the Florida Bankers Association does. Alex Sanchez, the president and CEO, wrote me and said:
This bill will help create jobs for Floridians by increasing the loans to Florida's economic engine: Small businesses.
Who else supports it? Camden Fine, the president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America. He said:
This legislation is a positive for our community banking sector and to our small business customers who are vital to job creation and the economic recovery.
Robert Hughes, National Association for the Self-Employed, says:
The National Association for the Self-Employed, on behalf of our 200,000 member businesses, strongly supports creating the Small Business Lending Fund, which we hope will alleviate the funding and credit freeze faced by small businesses by expanding loan resources.
Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries of Florida, which represents businesses throughout Florida, says that this act moving through the Senate right now will help small businesses and ``lead to jobs, jobs, and more jobs.''
David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says:
Their ability to access capital is critical for economic recovery and job growth. The Florida Chamber of Commerce Small Business Council believes the Small Business Lending Fund will enhance the ability of small business owners to create jobs and transition Florida to a new and sustainable economy.
Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, writes in support of this bill:
The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 200 local Hispanic chambers and serves as the national advocate for nearly three million Hispanic-owned businesses in our country, supports passage of the Small Business Lending Fund Act.
These are Main Street groups. These are business groups that support this bill. So with all due respect to my colleagues who spoke before, this is good for business, and it is done in a measured and focused way that empowers the private sector. This is not big government. This doesn't run a deficit and it doesn't increase taxes.
In fact, to my friends who are supporting the base piece of legislation but may not want to support the amendment, they should know that our amendment cuts $2 billion in taxes out of the base bill. So we are going to cut taxes. The base bill has a lot of other cuts in taxes for small businesses, and I talked about that when I spoke earlier today.
This is going to be good for Floridians and Americans by getting needed capital to these small businesses that are struggling. That is why I support it. And I hope my friends on this side of the aisle will look at this bill seriously. I hope they think enough of me to look at it and give it a thorough evaluation because I know it is sort of a strange position I am in here. There may not be a lot of support for this on this side of the aisle, but my job representing Florida is to do what is right by the people I represent and to do what is right for the people of this country, and I believe this bill will do just that. It is not a perfect bill. No piece of legislation is. It will not solve the entire problem. No piece of legislation can. But I believe it will help. It will help in Florida, and it will help across the States of this great country, and that is why I support it.
In conclusion, Mr. President, I hope we can vote on this bill. I know the leadership is going back and forth trying to figure out a way to have some more amendments on this bill, and I believe that is the only obstacle to voting on this bill. I believe amendments should be allowed on this bill--a reasonable number--so we can get to it and we can pass it. Let's pass this thing before the weekend. Let's not wait until next week. Let's consider it, let's get it done, and let's help these small businesses.
Mr. President, I yield the remainder of my time to the Senator from Louisiana.
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