Mr. KERRY . Mr. President, I am going to be asking unanimous consent to proceed forward on the bill, but I am not going to do that until someone is here from the other side. And I know they are going to object, or most likely will object.

But let me bring to the attention of my colleagues in the Senate a situation that is not dissimilar to a situation we faced some months ago in trying to provide emergency assistance, under the Small Business Administration, to those who had been affected by the events of September 11 of last year.

We had a lot of small businesses in the country that were hurting that had collateral damage, if you will, as a consequence of those events. Many, many small businesses were dependent on the economy as it flows through all sectors. So whether it was a small drycleaner that was affected because they were not doing as much business because hotels were not doing as much business or a limousine company or a taxi company, there are many people who were affected tangentially because of the dropoff in air travel, and so forth.

It took us a number of months, almost six, unfortunately, in the Senate to respond in a way that many of us thought was both appropriate and adequate. And, again, we are sort of running into a strange kind of unexplained resistance by the administration to something that makes common sense, is very inexpensive but also very necessary for a lot of small entrepreneurs in our country. I am specifically referring to the Small Business Drought Relief Act.

In more than 30 States in our country, we have a declared drought emergency. And the drought is as significant in some places as it was during the great Dust Bowl years of the Depression in the United States.

Drought hurts more than farmers, more than ranchers. The purpose of this bill is to try to provide some emergency assistance, in an affordable and sensible way, for those small businesses that are not in agricultural-related fields but desperately cannot get help, and need it, and cannot get it because the SBA does not apply the law uniformly for all victims of drought.

The SBA makes disaster loans to small businesses related to agriculture that are hurt by drought, but they are turning away small businesses that are in industries unrelated to agriculture, and claiming that those businesses are not entitled to it because drought does not fit the definition of disaster.

That is just wrong. It is wrong because the law does not restrict them from making loans to those small businesses. It is wrong because that is not the intent of the Congress to turn away those small businesses, and they should be following the law and following the intent of Congress.

I might add that the SBA has in effect right now disaster declarations in 30 States that I just talked about. For instance, in South Carolina, the entire State has been declared a disaster by the SBA , but the administration is not helping all of the drought victims in South Carolina that are looking for help.

Let me share with you the declaration of drought itself. It addresses this question of intent.

Small businesses located in all 46 counties may apply for economic injury disaster loan assistance through the SBA .

Let me read to you from the declaration:

Small businesses located in all 46 counties may apply for economic injury disaster loan assistance through the SBA . These are working capital loans to help the business continue to meet its obligations until the business returns to normal conditions. ......Only small, non-farm agriculture dependent and small agricultural cooperatives are eligible to apply for assistance. Nurseries are also eligible for economic injury caused by drought conditions.

What do I mean by other businesses that may be affected by drought? In South Carolina, conditions are so bad that small businesses dependent on lake and river tourism have seen their revenues drop anywhere from 17 to 80 percent. So you have victims of the drought that range from fish and tackle shops to rafting businesses, from restaurants to motels, from marinas to gas stations. Their livelihood is no less impacted and no less important than those who have been deemed to fit under only the agricultural definition.

Thousands of small businesses make their living in tourism, recreation industries, not just in South Carolina but in many other parts of the country, including my State of Massachusetts, in Texas, Michigan, Delaware, and elsewhere.

In fact, for a lot of States around the Great Lakes Basin, sport fishing, as reported by the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, brings into the region some $4 billion a year. There are many industries that are dependent on water that are affected by drought, and they ought to be eligible for this help.

Is this opening Pandora's box with respect to a flow of lending that we cannot afford? The answer is definitively no. The SBA already has the authority, but its lawyers have decided not to help these industries based on their own interpretation of a definition, despite the fact that Congress believes otherwise.

That defies both common sense and fairness. Small businesses with everything on the line desperately need this, especially at a time when capital is a lot tighter for working capital purposes, where the lending is significantly tighter from the banks and from other traditional credit sources.

Our bill, the drought relief bill, does not expand the existing program. It simply clarifies existing authority. That is a matter of common sense.

In terms of cost, the Congressional Budget Office estimates a cost of about $5 million annually. What we have here is a resistance by somebody in the U.S. Senate to allowing this to go forward based on about a $5 million annual estimate by CBO.

This chart of CBO's estimate is a tally of the estimated spending under the SBA's disaster loan program which shows the differential with this particular bill.

This bill is bipartisan. The principal cosponsors are Senator Bond and Senator Hollings. All the members of our committee--the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship--voted in favor of this bill. There are 25 cosponsors, Democrats and Republicans; 17 Governors have written us to express their support of this legislation in hopes we will pass it, including 15 of the Southern Governors' Association.