SBIR still on stopgap appropriation

A federal small-business grant program for high-tech firms is back to square one in the quest for secure, long-term funding.The Small Business Innovation Research program, or SBIR, failed a Senate cloture vote – a process to end debate on a piece of legislation and cut off further amendments – on a 52-44 vote, with 60 votes needed to pass to end the debate.Had the cloture vote on S. 493 passed, the Senate’s long-term SBIR authorization bill it would have come before the Senate for a vote on final passage.Currently, SBIR and the related Small Business Technology Transfer, or STTR, program, have appropriations authorized through May 31. Passage of a temporary funding or the full long-term authorization bill will be needed by that time or the programs will sunset.Shaheen, a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and a strong advocate of the SBIR, voted for the cloture vote to move to a final vote.U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, also a member of the Senate small business committee and a minority member on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, voted against the Senate cloture.According to a press release from Shaheen’s office, “Senate Republicans objected to ending debate on the bill, demanding that the final measure include votes on unrelated issues. When Democrats filed today’s motion to end debate after five weeks, Republicans voted as a block to filibuster the bill.”According to Shaheen’s office, those “unrelated issues” — 150 of them — included pro-life measures, banking provisions and the repeal of health-care reform measures.Ayotte, a member of the Senate Small Business Committee, said she “fully” supports “the merits” of the SBIR legislation, of which she is a co-sponsor. But she said she opposed the most recent short-term funding measure because Democratic Senate leadership “refused to allow votes” on two measures: One that would have required federal agencies to fully consider the economic impact of regulations on small businesses and another that would repeal the 3 percent withholding tax that penalizes companies that do business with the government. She said she supports both of them, which she called “crucial.”There are several major sticking points between the Senate version and H.R. 1425, the House version of the bill.The Senate version would approve of businesses with a majority ownership by venture capital firm to be eligible for as much as 25 percent of SBIR funds, perhaps the most contentious point.The House version would allow as much as 45 percent of available SBIR awards to go to venture majority-controlled businesses.The House version is also much shorter in duration – authorization would last only through 2014, instead of the eight-year timeline in the Senate version. The Senate small business committee had approved of a 14-year extension, but that was amended.According to Senator Shaheen’s office, New Hampshire firms received 80 total awards totaling $26 million in grants through SBIR in the last two years. – CINDY KIBBE/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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