It’s a transition time for small business representation on Capitol Hill.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) spent her last official day last week as chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship holding a confirmation hearing for newly nominated SBA administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet. She was expected to officially hand over the gavel for the committee to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) by week’s end.
Landrieu was named chair of the committee in December 2008, at the height of the Great Recession.
As Landrieu exits, she can reflect on some major highlights during her time as chair. According to her website, Landrieu was instrumental in clearing up to $16 billion in loans for small businesses through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
She says this created or saved thousands of jobs among small businesses by opening up lines of credit. The provisions included in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act were designed to reduce fees on Small Business Administration loans and to increase the SBA loan guarantee on 7(a) loans to 90 percent. Additionally, the SBA 504 Debt Refinance Program allowed small businesses to refinance while locking in long-term mortgages at lower rates. The program was not renewed in 2012.
Landrieu also says the secondary market for loans to small businesses has opened up during the last four years. And small businesses are now more competitive in gaining federal contracts. In a 2010 editorial for the Washington Post, she explained the importance of having more small businesses bid for government contracts:
“This makes government contracting one of the easiest and most inexpensive ways the government can immediately help increase sales for America’s entrepreneurs. We must remove the red tape and close loopholes that too often put government work into the hands of multinational corporations instead of Main Street businesses.”
Under Landrieu’s leadership, the Senate Small Business Committee also worked to open up trade opportunities for small businesses.
That’s where Cantwell, who will assume leadership of the committee now, says she would like to start her efforts.
Cantwell hopes to renew the SBA 504 refinancing program and also continue the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program. She said this program has helped small businesses in her home state of Washington compete in a global economy.
The Washington Senator said during the nomination hearing:
“We have huge opportunities to the Asian market in the Pacific Northwest and we certainly want to see us use these promotions to help meet the agenda that the administration has on doubling the number of exports out of the United States – certainly small businesses can play a very big role in that.”
Cantwell was an executive at a tech startup for five years between stints in Washington. According to a Seattle Post profile, Cantwell returned to her native Washington after leaving Congress in 1994 and accepted a job with RealNetworks. The company has become famous for developing streaming digital video and audio solutions, most notably RealPlayer.
Images: United States Senate Committee Channel