The Right (Inadvertently) Helps The Economy!

Bear with me, and I'll show you how something good is about to happen for the economy, which can be traced directly back to the rabid conservative movement -- the GOP Village of the Damned, as I called it two years ago.

It turns out that, barring further developments, the US Senate will successfully vote tomorrow to pass an amendment to a small business bill, that will in turn be passed later this week. (As often is the case recently in the Senate, schedules and results are subject to change.)

The amendment is a piece of legislation that Senate Democrats have been trying to pass for something like eight months or so. It would create a $30 billion pool to allow, and indeed encourage, community banks to extend lines of credit to small businesses.

One of the very big problems during this recession has been the frequent inability of these community banks to loan money to small businesses -- even good existing loan customers; even when the banks have the capital; and even when those banks want to provide the loan. That's due to rules that (wisely) prevent these small banks from overextending themselves.

This bill would provide a $30 billion pool that would be used, in essence (and to the limited extent that I understand the bill), to shore up those community banks' equity positions to allow them to lend more money under those rules -- allowing them, in fact, to actually loan an additional $300 billion. Which is a lot of money, that is desperately needed by small businesses to stay in business, expand, hire people... you get the idea. As I understand it, under this legislation the more money a bank loans out (under their raised cap), the lower their repayment rate to the government, so they'll be highly motivated to get the money out quickly -- but the banks remain wholly responsible for the loans, so they're still incentivized to make smart decisions on extending credit.

Oh, and I believe the CBO says the bill will pay for itself plus add over a billion dollars to the Treasury -- not counting any additional revenue benefits from additional taxes that will be paid by businesses and workers affected.

If this seems like a no-brainer, it kind of is. A whole host of banking and business groups approve of it, President Obama wants it, all the Democrats want it, and as I understand it, it polls really, really well.

For all those eight months or so, however, not a single Republican would agree to support it. Presumably that's part of their overall obstructionist strategy; publicly they argue that this bill would set up a "TARP-like" structure, which they seem to think is a form of nationalizing banks. So, the bill has stagnated for many months, just short of the 60 needed to get past the GOP fillibuster, while actual small businesses have closed, or laid people off, or failed to expand, all for want of credit from their local community bank.

That fillibuster has included Senator George LeMieux of Florida. If you'll recall, LeMieux, a Charlie Crist acolyte, was appointed by Crist to temporarily replace Senator Mel Martinez, who retired last summer.

Who can guess where I'm going with this?

Crist, of course, is running for that Senate seat this year -- and if all was normal in the world, he would right now be in the final campaign stretch toward the August 24 Florida Republican primary, heading toward a hard-earned victory over ultra-conservative Marco Rubio. And I think we can safely say that in the final five weeks of that primary campaign, Senator George LeMieux would not want to cause a headache for his once and future mealticket Charlie Crist, by using his Crist-appointed vote to cross party lines and vote for what Rubio would undoubtedly call the socialist takeover of every local bank from Tallahasee to South Beach.

So, in a normal world, LeMieux would be -- as he had been -- a solid no vote on this bill, certainly right up through the August recess.

But this is not a normal world. This is a world in which the conservative base of the Republican Party ganged up against one of the most popular governors in the country for being too moderate. National conservative leaders endorsed Rubio; money poured in to Rubio; conservative media fawned over Rubio and bashed Crist relentlessly; and polls showed that the conservative voters who now dominate the Florida chapter of the GOP Village of the Damned were going to pummel Crist in the primary.

So, about two months ago, Crist left the Republican Party, to run as an Independent. So, now he doesn't need the votes of the socialism-spotting conservatives -- he needs the votes of Democrats and moderates. Or, to put it more simply, the votes of that majority who think it's a good idea right about now for the government to help put money into the hands of small businesses.

That hasn't exactly turned LeMieux immediately into a regular crossover voter, by any means -- but Senate Small Business Committee Chair Mary Landrieu declared on the Senate floor tonight that LeMieux had agreed to vote yes on this loan bill, and that she expects to have her 60 votes tomorrow. (The vote will be on attaching it as an amendment to a broader small business bill, which as I mentioned above is expected to pass later in the week.)

Frankly, I wouldn't be shocked if a few other Republicans, seeing that the thing is actually going to pass, might suddenly find themselves converted to be part of the winning side. Regardless, if this bill does indeed pass, and ultimately become law, it will be because LeMieux crossed the partisan line, which wouldn't have happened if Charlie Crist was still a Republican, which he would be if the right-wing movement conservatives hadn't declared was on RINOs like Crist. So, thank a conservative!

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