Washington (CNN) - President Barack Obama turned the spotlight to his small business agenda Friday, urging congressional passage of legislation meant to boost federal assistance to a key segment of the economy.
Among the proposals highlighted by the administration is a $30 billion government lending program offering capital to community banks that boost their small-business lending. Banks with assets worth less than $10 billion would be able to borrow money from the Treasury at a dividend rate as low as 1 percent provided they use the cash to make more small-business loans this year than they did in 2009.
Other proposals being pushed by the president include an elimination of capital gains taxes on certain small business investments.
"Ensuring that small businesses can thrive is about more than our economic success," Obama said at the White House after a meeting with small business leaders. "It's about who we are as a people. It's about a nation where anybody with a good idea and a willingness to work can succeed. That's the promise of America."
Legislation enacted in March included new business tax credits for hiring additional workers, as well as a measure allowing companies to write off, instead of depreciate, new equipment.
Many small businesses, however, are still struggling to regain their footing in the wake of the recent recession. The Commerce Department reported Friday that retail sales fell for the first time in eight months in May, widely missing analyst expectations.
Total retail sales fell 1.2 percent to $362.5 billion last month, compared with April's upwardly revised 0.6 percent increase. It was first decline since last September, when retail sales fell 2.3 percent.
Data from the Small Business Administration (SBA) show that small companies have generated 64 percent of the net new jobs every year over the past 15 years. Those businesses, however, were particularly hard hit by the economic downturn. A Senate report last year found that American businesses with fewer than 20 employees have suffered steeper job losses than larger companies.