Veteran Business Owners: Jobs Bill a Waste

A national group of veteran business owners thinks a $234-million bill that overwhelmingly passed the House and is pegged to generate jobs for veterans is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“This bill scratches a non-existent itch,” said Chris Hale, president of the National Veteran-Owned Business Association.

The Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives in May 2009 by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 406-15. The chief thrust of the bill would generate jobs for veterans through the establishment of Veterans Business Centers within the Small Business Administration. But action in the Senate has been stalled because of a “secret hold” on the bill, which halts floor consideration of the matter and which any senator can do anonymously. It is one of 309 such bills currently stalled in the Senate.

“I cannot vouch for the reasons why this anonymous senator has decided to block this bill,” Hale said this week. “But I can tell you that I would do the same.”

Many government programs already provide business counseling services, Hale added, including the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development and its Small Business Development Centers.

“It seems an incredibly wasteful use of taxpayer dollars because, quite simply, the problem isn’t now, nor has it ever been, that veterans need help in starting a business,” said Hale, whose group advocates for private enterprise and government to use veteran-owned businesses as preferred vendors. He cited census data that shows three million veteran-owned businesses and finds vets are twice as likely as non-veterans to own a business.

“Seems like the military does a pretty good job training veterans for business ownership,” Hale said. “Leadership? Check. Discipline? Check. Pressure-tested? Check. Insane work ethic? Check. Willing to take risk? Check. You get the point.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., funds business centers that would provide “veterans' entrepreneurial development, counseling of veteran-owned small businesses, and government procurement assistance to veterans.” They would be located in areas “where the population of veterans, and the population of veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom, exceed the national median.”

For non-veterans, the bill would:*Fund online learning for potential entrepreneurs, and an online peer-to-peer technical assistance.*Fund strategies for increased Native-American entrepreneurship, and expand their access to capital.*Revise the SBA’s women’s business programs.*Provide assistance to small businesses facing higher costs resulting from a program to impose a tax on carbon emissions.*Fund a program to train low-income and unemployed people on starting a “micro-enterprise” business, with not more than six employees.

“This legislation marks the first major overhaul of the Small Business Administration's entrepreneurial development programs in a decade,” said Shuler, a former NFL quarterback (Saints, Redskins, Raiders) and member of the budget-cutting coalition of so-called Blue-dog Democrats.

“The Senate procedure of the ‘secret hold’ has been frustrating to House legislators for some time,” he said. “Earlier this month, we thought the Senate might vote to prohibit the practice. Unfortunately, that effort was thwarted. There are a number of pieces of important legislation passed by the House that are being held up in the Senate.”

Some observers see the practice of the “secret hold” as the result of rising partisan politics; others think it results from the House simply passing more bills than the slower, more deliberate Senate can handle.

“We're not sure who's got the hold on it and not sure why, frankly,” said Molly Brogan , vice president of public affairs for the National Small Business Association. “It's a relatively benign bill that would enhance technical assistance programs and streamline the SBA's assistance programs. We testified on the Job Creation through Entrepreneurship Act back in 2009, and are generally supportive of it, though I would not put it at the top of our list of things that we'd like Congress to act on.”