Cantwell goes to bat for small businesses

By:  Pat Muri

YAKIMA, Wash. -- U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell swung through Central Washington on Wednesday, pushing for passage of President Barack Obama's proposed $30 billion small-business lending bill.

Meeting with local business and banking leaders at the Greater Yakima Chamber of Commerce office, Cantwell said the proposal offers the relief for Main Street that many have clamored for since the federal bailouts of  Wall Street.

"People really think this is the impetus (for recovery) that we've been lacking," she said in a brief interview following her closed-door meeting at the chamber office. "This is what we really need."

The bill, which passed the U.S. House last month, would lend $30 billion of federal money to community banks. Supporters, primarily Democrats like Cantwell, say the banks could leverage that money into $300 billion in small-business loans.

Republicans in the House and Senate have criticized the bill as another federal bailout on the taxpayers' dime. But Cantwell emphasized that the money will be repaid to the government, and in the meantime could bolster job growth by allowing more small businesses to start up.

Citing Lori Babcock, who attended the meeting and whose new Tieton Farm & Creamery has struggled with financing to complete its bed-and-breakfast business plan, Cantwell said there is plenty of unmet demand for such loans.

"There were lots of stories like this," she said of her meetings on the subject. "There are people having trouble. And people obviously have big plans for Yakima."

Jeff Newgard, president and CEO of Yakima National Bank, said the impact of the bill's passage would be felt immediately in Yakima. It's a simple equation, he said: Adding capital for his bank means more loans for Yakima businesses.

"It would increase our lending limit right away," Newgard said. "We could get some growth right from the beginning."