Politics & Government

Cantwell touts lending bill at Fish Brewing

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell took a tour of the Fish Brewing Co. in Olympia on Tuesday, collecting stories from small-business owners in cities from Vancouver to Tacoma that she said show a federal lending-assistance bill is needed to help spur job creation.

Sandy Berry, director of the 50-employee company that makes Fish-Tale ales and hard cider, told Cantwell that he would like to add brewing tanks and expand sales in the company’s Northwest market. But access to loans has been a problem.

“Access to capital is an important constraint on the company. We can sell all the beer and cider we make and people want more,” said Berry, who also is a Democratic activist and optometrist.

The company, which began as the Fish Tale brew pub in 1993 in Olympia, would like to add equipment and potentially hire a brewer and a worker in shipping, according to Al Triplett, chief operating office. But businesses needing loans of $300,000 to a few million dollars for expansion have been running into credit trouble since the financial markets went haywire in late September 2008, Berry said.

The Small Business Lending Fund Act, or H.R. 5486, would aid lending by regional banks by opening $30 billion in federal funds for them to tap while giving higher loan guarantees and waiving some Small Business Administration loan fees.

Cantwell said the National Federation of Independent Business has favored the legislation, but minority Republicans in the Senate are raising obstacles – including making claims it is a form of bailout for banks.

“The Republicans don’t support the program. They try to say it is other things and equate it to what the big banks got,” Cantwell said. “This is a lending program; it’s not buying toxic assets. It’s about getting capital to people like this who have been hard hit by what happened on Wall Street.”

She made her tour on the same day President Obama and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., visited with small-business owners in Seattle and Obama also attended a fundraiser for the senator.

Dino Rossi, the state Republicans’ leading challenger to Murray in Tuesday’s primary election, is among those who oppose the aid. His campaign said he believes the legislation – like the recently passed Wall Street reforms that Murray also backed – leaves open the chance that taxpayers would have to bail out regional banks that get into trouble.

But Cantwell said the NFIB’s support shows “there are people like Dino and others that are just wrong about this.” She also said that having businesses add just a job or two each is vital to lowering the unemployment rate.

“If every business would hire just one or two people it would have a monumental effect,” Cantwell said.

The NFIB’s position is a bit more ambiguous than Cantwell painted, however. Brad Close, the conservative business group’s vice president for federal public policy, said in a news release in mid-June that credit is an issue for small businesses. But he said a bigger concern is uncertainty over taxes and legislation that increases the cost of running a business – such as the estate tax and health-care reform costs.

“According to NFIB’s monthly economic surveys, small business hiring and capital spending continue to be at near-record lows. And, credit has become more difficult to obtain since sales prospects and profit trends are very weak,” Close stated. “But the primary problem facing small business owners right now in terms of job creation is not access to credit; it’s a lack of sales, customers and confidence. Small business owners are unlikely to invest in hiring or expanding their businesses when sales and profits remain weak. In order for these business owners to start hiring, demand must pick up first.”

Cantwell, the state’s junior senator and Democrat, said she is working with Murray, the state’s three-term Democrat, to push the $30 billion business-lending assistance bill. She said she thinks majority Democrats can get it done when they return to Washington, D.C., in September now that a few key Republicans see that it could help business.