By Cromwell Schubarth

The world changed Sept. 11, we are constantly reminded, and for a while it looked like that included how things got done in Washington.

But there has been a swift return to normalcy for some, judging from recent bickering in the Senate over small-business relief in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) accuses Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) of using "backdoor tactics" to block a bill expected to spur billions of dollars in small-business loans.

Senate rules let individual senators put a "hold" on a bill, which Kyl and an anonymous colleague have done on this one.

Kerry, meanwhile, is accused of unfairly holding up the appointment by President Bush of Wellesley native Thomas Sullivan to run the Small Business Administration's advocacy office.

Sullivan runs the legal foundation of the National Federation of Independent Business, a strong backer of Republican policies.

Kerry won't say that he's blocking a Senate vote to confirm Sullivan's appointment in retaliation for Kyl's blocking of his bill. But he's not denying it either.

"Sen. Kerry has repeatedly stressed that he will do anything and everything it takes to pass this bill," says Dayna Hanson, a staffer on the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, which is chaired by Kerry.

Kerry's message is aimed at the White House, which appears responsible for holding up the small-business relief act Kerry co-sponsored with committee colleague Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond (R-Mo).

The act expands SBA loan programs and makes it easier for businesses affected by terrorism to qualify. At an estimated cost of $ 815 million, its backers say it will trigger $ 17 billion in loans.

The bill has 60 Senate co-sponsors and broad business support.

Kyl has said he is "just an agent" acting on White House concerns that small-business relief is unneeded and expensive. That puts Kyl and the White House in the awkward position of opposing aid for a sector that Republicans are usually very friendly with.

Which doesn't set well with people such as Alice Fisher, co-owner of Jules Catering in Somerville, who hopes the Senate passes the Kerry-Bond act, and fast.

"We did about 31 percent less business than normal in the third quarter and have been running about 37 percent down since Sept. 11," Fisher says. "We need the loan this bill will help us get. If you want a healthy economy, you have to help small businesses."

Kerren Vollmer, co-owner of a Flagstaff, Ariz., tour company that went under last month after 73 years in business, is more blunt.

"(My business) could be alive today if 'my senator' hadn't chosen to act as a political stooge for the White House," says Vollmer, who says she voted for Kyl and is a lifelong Republican. "I'm disgusted and angry."