Snowe Kills Small Business Bill

A small business aid bill that the Senate has been working on for months is likely dead, all because one senator became stubbornly wed to an amendment intended to upset the regulatory process and make it more difficult for agencies to protect the public.

Today’s cloture vote on S. 493, a bill to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the Small Business Technology Transfer Program, failed along party lines. 52 Senators, all Democrats and Independents, voted to end debate on the bill (eight short of the 60 necessary). 44 Senators, all Republicans, voted against. (Three Senators didn’t vote.)

The vote indicates that Republicans have withdrawn their support from a bill to help small businesses – an issue that usually transcends party politics. How did it come to this?

The blame can largely be placed on the shoulders of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), one of the original co-sponsors of the bill. As OMB Watch discusses in today’s issue of The Watcher, Snowe insisted on a vote on a bill she is sponsoring with Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) as an amendment to S. 493. You can read in The Watcher the various reasons why the Snowe-Coburn bill is a dud. In short, it would dump a heap of new requirements on regulatory agencies, making it insanely difficult for them to set new safeguards for consumers, families, patients, workers, the environment, and the economy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to let the amendment come up for a vote. He pointed out that no hearings had been held on the legislation, and that it was not relevant to the debate over S. 493.

In some circumstances, it would be reasonable to place some of the blame for S. 493’s failure on Reid as majority leader. But not here. The Senate has been debating S. 493 since early March. It is an important but relatively noncontroversial bill that should not be diverting lawmakers’ time and taxpayer resources to the extent it has.

150 amendments were introduced (an unfortunate but common side effect of noncontroversial legislation), and Reid took great care to give many of them a fair shake. It was time to move on.

Many in Congress have spent considerable hours this year demonizing regulation. They say that the safeguards set by agencies burden small businesses and kill jobs. But today’s vote proves that the anti-regulatory crowd doesn’t care about small businesses nearly as much as it cares about small-government ideology, party politics, or the campaign contributions that come from the biggest corporations. In fact, today’s vote may prove those in the anti-regulatory crowd don’t care about small businesses at all – they were willing to sacrifice entrepreneurs at the altar of another master.

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