The effort would represent a striking shift from the rescue program's original mandate, since it would direct billions of bailout dollars toward a plan that aims more at saving jobs than at righting the financial system. Some economists estimate that small businesses, defined as firms with fewer than 500 workers, employ most of the country's workforce.
A proposal being floated by senior Treasury Department officials calls for using the bailout funds to expand a government program that helps small companies borrow from banks at low rates to keep their businesses going, the sources said. These "working-capital" loans would come with few restrictions and could be used to buy inventory, hold on to employees and pay off short-term debt. . .
The scope of the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP, has been expanded several times already, first to save General Motors and Chrysler and then to help life insurers. In both cases, government officials argued that emergency assistance was critical for preventing economic upheaval. Making the bailout funds available to millions of small businesses would be a far more dramatic expansion. . .
Administration officials said discussions are in the early stages and that no plan is expected before the fall. Concepts now on the table may evolve or be scrapped altogether, they said. No dollar figure has been set. . .