Small business loan measure with Merkley provision clears GOP filibuster

— Times are still hard but Don Brostoski is ready to expand his Portland business if only he can find a bank willing to make a loan.

“If I could receive capital easier, yes, it would allow me to expand our business tremendously,” said Brostoski, president and founder of Golden West Billiards, which employs 25 people and bills itself as the country’s oldest manufacture of billiard and game tables.

“I could expand like crazy and hire people,” he said.

But the big banks are hoarding cash while most of the community banks that small businesses traditionally use are tapped out, restricted by federal rules from making loans until they boost their reserves.

Congress wants to help. But entrenched partisanship and a fast-approaching election has stalled progress in the Senate of legislation designed to help small business.

Democrats finally broke a Republican filibuster Thursday night after a long day of debate and back room negotiations involving an amendment by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., that would provide $30 billion in federal dollars to community banks to recycle as small business loans.

The vote was 60-37, with two Republicans joining Democrats to provide the 60 votes needed to end debate. The full bill is still pending — with a vote possible next week — but Democratic leaders expressed confidence Thursday night that they could push it past any remaining GOP objections. The House passed its version of the small business lending program in June.

The bill would let “community banks do what they do best, which is evaluate the best opportunities to invest,” Merkley said Thursday in an interview. “These are not guaranteed loans. The banks pay a price if they make a bad loan. They have no incentive to make a loan unless they think it will be a good one.”