When Margaret Guerin-Calvert spoke at a Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago conference last month, one theme was clear: The U.S. Justice Department is scrutinizing prospective bank mergers for their effect on small-business customers more than for any other quality.

Ms. Guerin-Calvert, who is assistant chief in the economic regulation section of the Justice Department's antitrust division, articulated what many consultants have been theorizing in recent months: The Bush administration is embracing small business as never before.

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