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Snowe: Prioritize our nation’s budget for small businesses

U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe

(R-Maine)

On Monday, Feb. 14 President Obama released his Fiscal Year 2012 budget, which fell far short of setting fiscal priorities to create jobs, grow the economy and reduce the nation’s burgeoning debt burden.

As our gross federal debt exceeds $14 trillion and is projected to reach 100 percent of our Gross Domestic Product by the end of 2011, the most significant task for the 112th Congress is to rein in these unsustainable deficits and return the federal budget to fiscal sanity.

Regrettably, the President’s proposal—which includes $8.7 trillion in new spending and would double the debt held by the public by the end of his term and triple it 10 years after he was sworn in—falls woefully short when it comes to prioritizing policies and fulfilling our economic imperative to reduce federal spending and shrink the nation’s unsustainable debt.

Moreover, I am extremely concerned this budget proposal has once again deferred leadership on critical, long-term structural debt issues for future Congresses and generations to tackle, increasing spending this year to its highest level since World War II at a record $3.8 trillion.

As we work to meet our obligation to reduce the staggering federal debt, every federal agency must do its part by making smarter budgetary decisions and reducing spending. This includes the Small Business Administration (SBA), which is the federal government’s sole advocate for small businesses.

To begin this process, as Ranking Member of the Senate Small Business Committee, I sent a letter to the SBA Administrator and Inspector General last month seeking their input on ways to eliminate or substantially reduce programs that are inefficient or duplicative at the agency. I received a response the week before the President released his budget, noting that the President’s request would “identify SBA programs that can be further streamlined or—in some instances—eliminated altogether.”

To my dismay, the budget recommended termination of only two programs at the SBA: the Drug-Free Workplace program and the Prime Technical Assistance program. Together these two programs cost taxpayers $9 million in Fiscal Year 2010 out of the agency’s total $687 million budget—a mere 1.3 percent. It also included “special purpose counseling grants” in its list of low priority agency programs, saving another $5.1 million without directly calling for their termination.

As I believe we can go farther when it comes to reining in spending and maximizing program efficiency, I intend to work with others in Congress to find additional duplicative and unnecessary programs that we can work to abolish.

Furthermore, we cannot cut the budget simply for the sake of cutting. We must prioritize which programs most efficiently provide counseling and aid small businesses in creating jobs, and provide them with sufficient funding. For instance, in his FY 2012 budget request, the President is requesting reductions in a number of the SBA’s core programs, such as the small business development centers and the microloan program, while requesting increases for salaries, operating costs and the Administrator’s Executive Direction budget—which alone is an appalling 190 percent over FY 2008 levels.

If the president can find areas for cuts within the programs that directly reach America’s entrepreneurs, he should be able to find areas for cuts within the agency’s overhead expenses. I am disappointed to see these increases in staffing and administrative costs at a time when Americans have clearly spoken out against growing government bureaucracy and bloated overhead in Federal agencies.

I will be working with the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committees to trim the SBA’s budget of excessive administrative costs.

Small businesses are the engine of our economy, and it is the federal government’s responsibility to foster an environment in which they can flourish, invest and innovate. This includes adequately funding initiatives like the SBA’s flagship lending programs, which have a quantifiable impact on helping small businesses grow and create jobs.

In the coming weeks, I look forward to detailing ways to save money at the SBA, while simultaneously identifying worthwhile programs that can help small businesses propel our nation’s economy forward as we continue our efforts to put Americans back to work.

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