By Albert Crenshaw

Republicans and small business are normally the best of friends. Both want low taxes and small government.

Except when they don't. And now is a time, for many small businesses, when they do not want small government. They want help in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

So an increasingly testy squabble has broken out over the fate of Senate Bill 1499, the Kerry-Bond American Small Business Relief and Recovery Act of 2001, now being delayed by two Republican senators: Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and an anonymous colleague.

The measure has 59 co-sponsors and is widely supported by business interests, but under the arcane rules of the Senate, which allow an individual senator to block action on a bill, the bill has gone nowhere because of the two senators' "holds," its backers say.

Kyl, for his part, says it is not a hold, but part of his role as chairman of the GOP steering committee to review bills that are being hustled through at the end of the session to make sure they have been properly "vetted." Those that are relatively noncontroversial are sent on, but others are stopped.

"I'm just an agent," Kyl said.

Others are not satisfied with that explanation.

The bill was introduced "over seven weeks ago and still, three months after Sept. 11, awaits consideration by the Senate -- hindered only by the two Republican holds," huffed Massachusetts Democrat John F. Kerry, who is chairman of the Senate small-business committee. "As each day passes, more and more small businesses are left behind, facing financial hardships that are forcing them to close their doors as a result of inadequate disaster assistance, stifled availability of loans, and limited access to capital," he said.

Even some other Republicans are squawking. Sen. Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking minority member of the small-business panel, complained to the Senate last week that it is time "to bring up S. 1499. If somebody has a problem with it, let's air it out on the floor."

The measure would greatly expand Small Business Administration loan programs and change eligibility rules to make it easier for businesses affected by terrorism to qualify. It is estimated to cost about $ 815 million a year, which Bond said would work out to some $ 17 billion in loans.

National Small Business United, a small-business group here, wrote a letter last week to Kyl, urging him to drop his hold. The group's 65,000 members "are concerned and confused by your hold," the letter said. It added that "you seem isolated in your opposition" to the measure.

The group's Damon Dozier acknowledged that Kyl is usually "a friend of small business," but he added, "we are going to fight for small business in a bipartisan manner."

Kyl said that he is sorry if anyone does not understand what he is doing and that he would be happy to talk to them. He said the Bush administration has its own small-business relief process, already implemented by executive order. Bush administration officials "think they've acted to deal with the immediate situation, and so parts of the bill are at best duplicative and other parts they don't like at all," he said.

Plus, it's expensive, he said.

Kyl said he hopes Kerry and Bond and the various staffs "can sit down and see if they can begin to work through" concerns the administration has with the bill. If that could be done, he would not oppose its passage, he said.

One of the problems for small business in recent years has been finding qualified workers. In response to that, businesses in some areas have joined with school systems, community colleges, trade groups and others to form what are often called workforce consortia. The groups seek ways to identify promising workers, give them relevant training and match them to employers.

There is federal legislation, including the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, designed to foster this sort of thing, but some of these efforts work better than others. So Bond asked the General Accounting Office to take a look at some of them and see what makes one successful.

The GAO found that communities often had most of the necessary components to deal with the employer-training-worker disconnect, but "what had been missing was a consistent and stable mechanism to link businesses to the employment and training resources they needed," it said.

Workforce consortia filled that need, but they in turn worked best when there was some stable entity to hold it together and act as an intermediary, and that often turned out to be a local group created under the Workforce Investment Act.

In short, unlikely as it seems, some genuine good is coming from a federal program.

If small businesses want workers, entrepreneurs want networks -- the kind that allow them to meet with their peers and swap ideas and war stories.

Five organizations around the country -- in Idaho, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas have succeeded in "seeding or supporting such networks," according to a new study by the National Commission on Entrepreneurship here.

How did they do it? The study did detailed case studies of the five to discover how and why local business networks nurture entrepreneurship, and offers practical tips on how to start and grow such networks. It's available online at

Business owners and executives trying to devise a rational crisis-response plan for their companies can get advice at a workshop being conducted this week and next by Johns Hopkins University's School of Professional Studies in Business and Education. The idea is to provide businesses with assistance from a panel of experts in preparing for not only possible repeat terrorist events but also any plausible disaster scenarios. The workshop is free and will be from 9 a.m. to noon Friday at Hopkins' Washington center, 1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW. It will be repeated Dec. 10 in Baltimore, also from 9 to noon, at Hopkins' Downtown Center, 10 North Charles St. For more information, call 410-516-7939; to register by phone, call 410-516-8516.