After nine months of struggle, the Senate finally succeeded Thursday in passing 61 to 38 a bill to create a $30 billion small business lending fund for community banks.

The Senate bill, which includes a package of $12 billion in tax credits for small businesses and additional Small Business Administration guarantees, is expected to be approved by the House soon.

The House passed a different version of the bill in June but industry lobbyists said Thursday that they expect Speaker Nancy Pelosi to agree to the Senate package in an effort to enact the bill prior to the November mid-term elections.

The legislation finally moved forward after two Republicans, Sens. George Voinovich of Ohio and George LeMieux of Florida, agreed to support the bill.

Just ahead of the vote, Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Mary Landrieu took to the floor to herald the bill’s imminent passage, noting its long drawn-out legislative battle.

“I know we are getting ready to vote on a very, very important piece of legislation, the Small Business Job Creation Act,” the Louisiana Democrat said. “I wish it could have been six months ago. I wish it could have been eight months ago. Every day, every week that we have waited to pass this bill has been another tough week for small businesses around our country but this week is a good week for them. They have a bill that they can be proud of and a bill that we can be proud of and it is over time that we pass this bill today.”

Landrieu added that a cornerstone of the bill is the fund for community banks, which she said could help turn the economy around.

“I met with bankers from California and Florida… I’m very proud because they said to me, ‘Senator this may be one of the most significant bills to help get our banks where we need to be to start lending,’” she said.

“One of the bankers… of a small bank, he only has $130 million in assets. According to this banker’s testimony to me yesterday, he’s going to take this bill and all of its provisions and he believes he can leverage $180 million in SBA loans to small businesses based on their record and based on the average SBA loan size of $650,000. This one bank in Southern California believes it can make 275 small business loans. If this one small bank… can take this one bill and its provisions and leverage it to 275 loans in Southern California there is hope on the way. This is a real start to putting this recession behind us.”

Under the program, any bank with less than $10 billion of assets could apply for funds. It would initially pay a 5% dividend, but it could see that lowered to as little as 1% if it boosts small-business lending. Unlike the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP, the fund is free of warrant requirements or restrictions on executive compensation.

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