Obama Again Uses Md. As Plan Backdrop

President, Baltimore-born Business Owner Meet At Unveiling Of Lending Effort

February 06, 2010|By Sun staff and news services

LANHAM - -President Barack Obama visited a Maryland company Friday to promote a national plan to temporarily expand two lending programs for small-business owners.

Before outlining his latest jobs initiative, which requires approval by Congress, Obama met privately with three people who own small businesses, including a Washington restaurateur who grew up in Baltimore. The president spoke on a day when the latest government figures showed that the U.S. economy lost 22,000 jobs in December, even as the unemployment rate dipped slightly, to 9.7 percent.

Obama said he wants to bolster the impact of the businesses that are the chief creators of new jobs in a struggling economy. With the president's poll numbers falling and punishing levels of unemployment lingering, he has stepped up his focus on the economy and jobs.

For two Fridays in a row, he chose Maryland businesses as real-world backdrops for his jobs pitches. One week after visiting a Highlandtown machine shop, he stopped at a Prince George's County heating and air-conditioning company, Oasis Mechanical Contractors.

Obama said he wants to help businesses refinance commercial real estate loans under the Small Business Administration and he wants that government agency to increase loans used for lines of credit and capital.

"The truth is, the economy can be growing like gangbusters for years on end and it's still not easy to run a small business," Obama said.

He reminded reporters that every once in a while, a small business becomes a large corporation that employs thousands.

Obama talked privately with four local entrepreneurs about their businesses. Among them: Ruth Gresser, one-time caterer and current president of Pizzeria Paradiso in Washington; she's a Baltimore native who learned to cook from her mother.

Obama said jokingly that he was "a little upset with Ruth because she did not bring samples," adding that his aide, Reggie Love, had described her pizza as "outstanding."

The White House said Obama's plan would temporarily increase the cap on SBA Express loans from $350,000 to $1 million.

Obama's plan also would expand the SBA's program to support refinancing for owner-occupied commercial real estate loans.

To be eligible, business owners must have first mortgages and be current on all loan payments for the previous year. The White House said the proposal would help refinance up to $18.7 billion each year in commercial real estate that might otherwise be foreclosed and liquidated.

The move, however, requires Congress to act - something of an open question, given that Democrats lost their supermajority only a day earlier when Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown was sworn in to the U.S. Senate, taking the long-Democratic seat once held by the late Edward M. Kennedy.

"What I hope, what I strongly urge is that we work quickly and that we work together to get this done," Obama said.

Obama wants to send $30 billion from the bank bailout program to community banks for lending to small businesses that need loans to increase their output and hire additional workers.

The president has also proposed eliminating capital gains taxes on small businesses in 2010 and giving small businesses a $5,000 tax credit for every new job created.

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