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Obama appeals for small business help

WASHINGTON -- Saying small businesses would help lead America's economic recovery, President Obama urged Congress to approve a package of measures aimed at helping these companies grow and expand.

Small businesses create "roughly two out of every three new jobs in our country," Obama said, but they lost 2.4 million jobs between the middle of 2007 and the end of 2008. He believes the set of tax breaks and lending incentives being debated in Congress will jump-start hiring.

"Even though we are in the process of digging ourselves out of this recession, we're still in a pretty deep hole," Obama said. "I'm hopeful that the House will pass these measures next week, and that the Senate will follow as soon as possible -- with both support from Democrats and Republicans and I'm eager to sign this tax relief and additional lending into law."

The president made the remarks to the press in the Rose Garden after a private Oval Office meeting with small business owners and their employees, several of whom joined him on stage.

Among other things, the legislation making its way through Congress would eliminate capital gains taxes for investment in small firms, give tax relief to small start ups and create the small business lending fund, which the the president proposed in his State of the Union address, to help underwrite loans through community banks.

The administration has come under constant fire from critics who say expensive legislation like the stimulus package and the health care overhaul have done little to help spur job growth, an issue at the top of voters minds. While the president today touted a growing GDP and five straight months of added jobs, lagging private sector job creation last month disappointed markets and gave more fuel to the Republican opposition.

Obama said the Recovery Act had included seven tax cuts for small businesses and had supported 68,000 loans -- or some $29 billion -- in new lending to small businesses and that more than $8 billion in federal stimulus contracts were now going to small businesses. He said a law that provides tax cuts to businesses that hire unemployed workers and allows companies to write off more for their investments in new equipment were helping these companies, but that more help was needed.

"Millions of our family members, our friends, our neighbors are still looking for work -- they're still faced with the prospect of long-term unemployment; credit is still less available than it should be particularly to small businesses," he said. "We have to keep moving forward."