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Obama focuses on small businesses

President Obama today used a stop at a New Jersey sandwich shop to make another strong push for Senate passage of a bill to help small businesses, which he called the backbone of America's economy.

It was the third time in a week that the president has called on the Senate to pass the Small Business Jobs Act, which would eliminate capital gains taxes on key investments, expand successful Small Business Administration programs, and create a $30 billion small business lending fund to help community banks offer loans to these companies.

Obama said that despite the "partisan politics" and "obstruction" his administration had confronted over the past year and a half, he had told the congressional leaders from both parties at a meeting at the White House yesterday that he expected to see the bill passed before the two chambers break for the August recess.

"Surely, Democrats and Republicans ought to be able to agree on this bill," he told reporters after meeting with a group of small business owners at the Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, NJ. "When I had a conversation with [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell and [House Minority Leader] John Boehner yesterday, I told them that the provisions of this bill are things that the Republican Party has said it supported for years -- helping small businesses, cutting taxes, making credit available. This is as American as apple pie."

In a conference call with reporters laying out the benefits of the bill, Small Business Administrator Karen Mills said that small businesses create 65% of the net new jobs in America, and that half of the people who work in this country own or work for a small businesses. She said that stimulus funds had helped put $30 billion in loans into the hands of some 70,000 small businesses, but that the program had run out of money at the end of May. Mills said more than 600 small businesses were waiting in line to receive funding once the Act becomes law, a sign they are ready to hire and to expand.

Despite multiple distractions in recent days -- from the leak of classified Afghanistan war documents to the premature firing of a USDA official over misrepresented remarks she made -- the White House has been trying hard to make the case to voters that the steps the Obama administration has taken to turn the economy around are working, an argument for keeping Democrats in control of Congress.

With the midterm elections approaching, Obama is stepping up both his fundraising events and efforts to focus people's attention on the economic recovery -- whether by pushing for passage of more stimulus to help jump-start private sector hiring or by visiting auto companies that his government took extraordinary steps to help save from collapse last year. The president is set to visit GM and Chrysler plants in Michigan on Friday.

After the stop in New Jersey, Obama was headed to New York for two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee. The two events are expected to attract about 50 people each, and the maximum contribution will be $30,400 per person, according to a Democrat familiar with the events. One of them is being held at the home of Vogue Editor Anna Wintour, a fact the Republican National Committee highlighted in an email they called "The President Wears Prada" -- a play on the title of a popular novel and film about the fashion industry -- in which they listed events the president has attended with wealthy donors and celebrities.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki (R) held a conference call to bash the president's fundraising trip and his economic policies, arguing they had creating what he called "essentially a jobless recovery."

"This administration from day one has had completely the wrong approach," Pataki told reporters. "I find it ironic today that Obama is talking about more government support for small businesses. But it's his policies that have really, I think hurt, the confidence of small businesses."