Sen. George LeMieux put sound policy above partisanship Tuesday and voted to advance a stalled bill that benefits small businesses. The Florida Republican displayed an independent streak by helping break an unnecessary deadlock over a bill now cleared for final vote. Next LeMieux should embrace a compromise offered by his Florida colleague in the Senate, Democrat Bill Nelson, to help small businesses again and reduce a burdensome government reporting requirement established under health care reform.
The measure considered by the Senate Tuesday would create a new $30 billion fund available to local banks with under $10 billion in assets. When leveraged, that money could mean up to $300 billion in new lending to small businesses for expansion and hiring, potentially creating 700,000 new jobs. LeMieux joined Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in proposing the fund, resulting in legislation that would provide a vital lifeline to small businesses in Florida. It's poised to pass the Senate later this week and then the House. President Barack Obama is highly supportive.
LeMieux points to one reason why he broke party ranks to get the bill moving: a milk and cheese dairy is moving to Orlando and plans to double the size of its company. But because it couldn't get financing for the expansion through a traditional bank, the owners had to sell a majority share to an outside investor. "Florida small businesses are hurting because they can't get loans," LeMieux says bluntly.
In addition to seeding community banks with funds for lending, LeMieux says the bill includes two of his other initiatives. One would increase the activities and staffing of the Department of Commerce to teach businesses how to export their products. The other would reduce health care fraud by pushing the Department of Health and Human Services to review the use of predictive modeling before paying Medicare and Medicaid bills. Computer programs would identify questionable medical bills the way credit card companies find fraudulent purchases. Those are worthy accomplishments.
Now on to the next issue, which the Senate failed to agree on Tuesday. Starting in 2012, the new health care law requires businesses to report all purchases of goods and services worth over $600, giving the IRS the tools to monitor tax cheats and bringing in billions of dollars of owed taxes. But there are reasonable concerns that it could be a paperwork nightmare for small businesses.
Nelson offered a reasonable fix, exempting 94 percent of the nation's businesses by eliminating reporting for those with 25 or fewer employees. Reporting thresholds for the remaining businesses would be raised to $5,000, and credit and debit card transactions would be exempt. Senate Republicans wouldn't embrace the compromise Tuesday and want to repeal the reporting entirely.
LeMieux knows Florida's economy is built on small business and needs help. Thanks to his legislation and vote Tuesday, more help should be on its way soon. Now LeMieux and Nelson should work together to tackle the next problem.