WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama freed billions of dollars to help the nation’s small businesses Monday, hoping to get credit flowing again to Main Street as well as Wall Street and showering praise on the little guys of American industry who have been complaining about being left out of rescue efforts.
The centerpiece of Obama’s latest plan will allow the government to spend up to $15 billion to buy the small-business loans that are now choking community banks and lenders. That, in turn, could allow those banks to start lending money again to small companies to invest, pay bills and stay afloat.
“You deserve a chance. America needs you to have a chance,” Obama said in an appeal to all those who run small businesses or hope to one day.
Obama’s effort was, at one level, fundamental to helping the economy rebound. Small businesses have created about 70 percent of the new jobs over the past decade, and as their credit lines have dried up, so has their ability to thrive or survive.
There was also a political component to all the attention the president gave to small businesses. The White House is aware of the nation’s bailout fatigue; hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars have gone to prop up financial giants who made poor decisions, while many others who have done no wrong have paid the price.
So Obama made clear to show he was on the side of everyday entrepreneurs.
He said small businesses “are the heart of the American economy” and “the heart of the American dream” and the core of “America’s story.”
Meanwhile, the president pledged to try to stop American International Group, the bailed-out insurance giant, from paying $165 million in executive bonuses. The revelation of that bonus pay, coming from a struggling company that has received more than $170 billion in federal rescue dollars, has evoked disgust.
“I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?” Obama said.
He directed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to pursue every legal means to block the bonuses. But it was unclear how or whether that would happen.
Obama’s primary focus was on leaders of small companies and community lenders. He met with some privately in the White House’s Roosevelt Room and cited their stories as inspiration as he announced his details in the East Room.
The White House unveiled a series of other steps to help lenders, including bigger lending guarantees, reduced fees and quicker turnaround times for loans.