Why are Senate Republicans- including Marco Rubio- making it harder for Florida small businesses to get the help they need through the SBA?

“And life goes on.” Miami Beach, Florida. February 21, 2021. (Photo: Rob Olivera)

As Florida business owners suffer under the crushing economic burden of a pandemic, a group of Senate Republicans- including Sen. Marco Rubio- are making it harder for small businesses to get the COVID-19 relief they need.

It’s not as if help isn’t available.

Lawmakers in Washington have been busy over the past year: There are COVID-19 aid funds aplenty for restaurants, live entertainment venues, retail operations and more- all available through the Small Business Administration.

As in the years post-2008, the Small Business Administration has been busily helping see smaller operations, which are the lifeblood of the American economy, through the worst of the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.

That the crisis continues into 2022 isn’t good news for anyone, least of all for small business owners- in Florida and elsewhere. They’ve already endured one rolling crisis after another. Somehow, they’ve managed to keep their businesses afloat through all the closures, quarantines, safety protocols and mitigation measures.

Small business owners have gamely withstood every new public health policy proposed by local and state officials. That they have survived only to face a new gauntlet of supply chain issues, rising inflation and a labor shortage is not making for the merriest of holiday seasons.

As hard as officials at the SBA have been working during the crisis, more could be done. The small businesses which have managed to hold on may someday grow into the corporate titans of tomorrow; companies from Chobani to Costco achieved mega-stardom in the business world with a little help from the SBA.

Without the SBA to help businesses sagging under the weight of COVID-19, the fledgling Apples, Nikes and Microsofts of tomorrow might wither and die.

What the SBA needs is a full roster of leadership. Instead, for the last 8 months, the position of deputy administrator has sat needlessly empty.

It isn’t because the Biden Administration failed to put forth a qualified nominee.

Successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dilawar Syed is perfect for the post. He has for the past 20-years been doing exactly what President Biden tapped him to do in an official capacity for the SBA: Helping connect small businesses, especially those in historically underserved and economically disadvantaged areas, with assistance from available state and federal programs.

Investing in the great American companies of tomorrow makes sense; the more entrepreneurs who find a foothold of success in the U.S., the better.

That some Senate Republicans, like Rand Paul, are ideologically opposed to the very idea of small businesses getting help from the SBA isn’t hard to understand. Ideological and policy differences are why we have two bitterly opposed parties instead of one big happy one.

What is nearly impossible to understand is why a group of Senate Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio, would prevent a qualified nominee from getting a fair hearing and vote.

Some of the relief funds waiting to be dispersed were requisitioned under the CARES Act by Sen. Rubio himself- among others- which makes his inaction on confirming a qualified candidate to the SBA even more mystifying.

Small businesses need the SBA; the SBA needs Dilawar Syed.

Yet on four separate occasions now, Senate Republicans have refused to even show up for a vote. The reasons they have given for this inexcusable dereliction have ranged through a number of political hot-button issues, most of which have had nothing to do with Dilawar Syed.

Considering the extraordinary lengths to which Republican Senators have gone to prevent Mr. Syed from occupying a desk at the SBA, it is hard to defend their actions against accusations of religious discrimination coming in from many quarters.

Mr. Syed would, if confirmed, become the highest-ranking Muslim-American in the Biden Administration- a history-making first.

These accusations of discrimination may be costly for Republican Senators in the upcoming election.

The newest powerful bloc of swing voters is increasingly Hispanic-American and Latino voters. Unlike other democratic voting groups- including a vast majority of African-American voters who have been reliably voting Democrat since the mid-1960s- voters who immigrated to the U.S. from its southern neighbors aren’t as intensely loyal to the Democrat Party.

Case in point: Florida has been getting steadily redder since 2016. For the first time, Republican voter registrations caught up with Democratic ones in the state of Florida recently. The Democratic Party has de-prioritized the race against Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis; read, DeSantis is looking good for reelection.

Republicans could blow it all, of course- by being perceived as unfriendly to the Hispanic-American and Latino business community in Florida for instance, among other reasons.

Republicans have a real chance at expanding their base in the run-up to the 2022 election- but not like this. Increasingly, polls indicate voters have a high level of confidence in Republicans when it comes to economic matters.

Republican Senators can either choose to build on this reputation; or destroy it by refusing to help small businesses.

A good-faith look at Dilawar Syed- his qualifications and qualities- will reveal everything Republican Senators could want in leadership at the SBA.

Like so many other immigrants to the U.S., Dilawar Syed is an American success story. He came to the U.S. on a student visa and is today an extremely successful business owner; a job creator. No one understands better than he that the chance to open a business, to build a company, to expand an idea into the marketplace, is a dream that draws millions of talented, hard-working entrepreneurs from all over the world to the U.S.- and to Florida- every year.

Republicans have a golden opportunity with many of these voters. While many minority small business owners might have voted Democrat in the past, entrepreneurs might consider voting for any party likely to help their businesses stay afloat in the coming years.

As evenly divided as the country is currently, neither party can win with only its own stalwarts. The recent Republican victory in Virginia happened because Glenn Youngkin and Winsome Sears widened their appeal beyond the Republican base.

To do the same in 2022 and again in 2024, Republicans can’t afford to play obstructionist politics for the conservative base.

Small business owners and entrepreneurs are an enormous voting bloc. Senate Republicans like Marco Rubio should jump at the opportunity to enthusiastically vote for a nominee like Dilawar Syed.

The sooner Republican Senators coalesce behind him, the better for Florida small business owners.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)