By Tynisa E. Trapps

President Bush's choice to head the Small Business Administration won swift and unanimous approval from a Senate committee Thursday, clearing the way for a vote before the full Senate as soon as next week.

In an unusual move, the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship voted 19-0 to endorse the nomination of Hector V. Barreto, a Glendale entrepreneur and former head of the Latin Business Assn., even before he offered his opening remarks.

However, committee members later expressed concerns about budget cuts proposed by the Bush administration that would reduce SBA spending from $900 million to $539 million for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

"It's a massive reduction in the agency's capacity. You would be presiding over an operation that you would be shutting down," said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the committee chairman. "We are going to need you to be an effective advocate."

Barreto defended the SBA's "many wonderful programs," saying he plans to review all of them. "I know President Bush is committed to making sure that small business has the resources it needs to succeed," he said.

Barreto, 39, who served as co-chairman of the Bush campaign in California, was tapped by President Bush in February to lead the agency. He would be the first SBA administrator from the West Coast.

At Thursday's hearing, several lawmakers grilled Barreto about a government report in January that highlighted management problems within the SBA. Although Barreto offered few specifics, he said that, if confirmed, he would focus on areas identified in the report as needing improvement.

His opening statement was largely personal, detailing his early years working with his family at his father's Kansas City, Mo., restaurant. His father, Hector Barreto Sr., an immigrant from Guadalajara, helped found the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 1979.

"My parents realized they were living the American dream," Barreto said. "They know that others within the community could achieve their American dream." Barreto said his goals for the agency would include facilitating access to loan and venture capital programs and providing 24-hour technical assistance and guidance.

Barreto expressed some concern about the implementation of "living wage" laws.

"[Business owners] want to make sure their employees are earning a suitable wage and that their employees have benefits," Barreto said. "Oftentimes, it's just not feasible because of the difficulty accessing those types of benefits and also the expense associated sometimes with putting those benefits in."

CORRECTION: SBA Nominee--A July 20 story about the confirmation hearing of Hector V. Barreto Jr. to head the Small Business Administration incorrectly stated that he would be the first SBA administrator from the West Coast. At least two previous SBA administrators were from California.