Can 26 U.S. Congressmen Really Help Small Business? Or Is it Politics As Usual?

In this article by Gene Marks on Forbes.com, he has a Q and A session with a few members of congress fro the House Committee on Small Business. In the midst of all this political gridlock it’s good to hear that there are a few in congress who are working for the benefit of small business. As always read, comment, share and enjoy!

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I found that, in a small corner of the Capital, 26 Congressmen (15 Republicans, 11 Democrats) are trying to do just that. They represent the interests of companies like mine. This is the House Committee on Small Business. Made up of many small business owners themselves the committee tries to enact legislation that helps small business grow. Just this week, the committee heard testimony from members of the banking community on how to improve relations with the Small Business Administration (SBA).

I recently met in Washington with two of its members, Rep. Richard Hanna (R-NY) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colorado), and corresponded via email with Nydia Velázquez (D-NY). We discussed their experiences and the impact that this committee has on small business.

Q: What does the committee do for small business?

Tipton: We have influenced several things that are beneficial. For example, we’re working on improving access to capital by working more closely with the Small Business Administration. We ask questions about what’s inhibiting the process to getting financing and eliminating the paperwork. There’s nothing more frustrating for small business people than the government asking us to fill out another form. You’re filling out a form when you need to be selling a product or growing your business.

Hanna: The premise is that we have a lot of influence on the growth on the economy and I think this is true. Regulation is a big factor. As a guy who’s been in business for the past 30 years I believe our economy has declined for a host of reasons due to bureaucracy. People, particularly small business owners, are starting to push back and the committee can help. We’ve reviewed and helped update the Small Business Innovative Research and technology transfer legislation. We have discussed and promoted export fairs for small businesses to do business overseas. We talk to different agencies and ask if our regulations make sense. Our primary responsibility is oversight of what the government is doing and how it can be better helping small business.

Velázquez : For small firms to succeed, they also need access to affordable capital. As the economy slowed, we were able to pass legislation that reformed the SBA’s lending programs. These changes injected $13 billion of new capital into small firms, helping hard hit businesses keep their doors open and encouraging dislocated workers to launch new, job-creating enterprises.

Q: Do you feel that that you can truly add value to the process?

Tipton: I am a small business owner and not a career politician. This is a committee that I wanted to be on. Small businesses are the driver of this economy. I wanted to offer my practical experience. We once had (Treasury Secretary) Tim Geithner before the committee and I had the disturbing feeling that I understood some things better than he did. Government sometimes makes things more complex than they need to be. I can say this is what is happening in my experience. And I know what I’m talking about because I’m out there. Small business owners can tell Washington we have a better way. We’re used to being innovative, nimble and being able to change and that’s what we’re bringing to the committee.

Velázquez: When I chaired the Small Business Committee, we worked hard to strengthen the small business sector and create ladders of opportunity for entrepreneurs. I authored the Women’s Procurement Program, legislation making it easier for female-owned small businesses tap into the $500 billion federal marketplace.

Q: What has the committee been hearing from small businesses recently?

Hanna: The committee has been hearing a lot of testimony about uncertainty. Who can deny that having capital gains up in the air doesn’t deny people’s ability to invest? National debt is also adding to our fear and anxiety. There are a lot of members on this committee who are small business owners themselves and who look at the deficit as the biggest problem we have.

Tipton: I agree that we hear about uncertainty . Moving goalposts in regulations. Uncertainty in the tax code. I talk to a lot of Sub S, LLC and proprietorships and they get very concerned about the changing tax code.

Q: What’s a specific example of the committee helping small business?

Hanna: I wrote a bill on bonding that was then reviewed by the committee. It’s an obscure subject matter. But that’s what I did because I was in the construction business myself. The committee held hearings on the issue. Through this bill the committee was able to help tighten up the rules and make the market more efficient by keeping bad actors out and helping the good actors. Very few people would think of this but we invited in the bonding companies and talked. (Note: this bill has passed the House and is awaiting Senate action.)

Tipton: We’re pushing a bi-partisan bill called Capital Access To Main Street (CAMS). It’s designed to relax regulations for main street banks so they can lend more to small businesses. We need to let bankers be bankers. For example, community banks should be able to give character loans, where they know a family or know the business person. It shouldn’t all be dotting I’s and crossing T’s. (Note: this bill is currently awaiting committee hearings.)

Q: Is the committee as partisan as the rest of Congress?

Tipton: I think the committee is much more of a bi-partisan environment than other parts of Congress, mainly because most of us have small business experience. The bills that we put forward almost always have bi-partisan support.

Q: Do you think the current Congress has been good for small business?

Velázquez: Struggling small businesses are tired of seeing Congressional inaction. While entrepreneurs are working furiously to create new jobs, the Republican controlled House has sat on its hands and refused to move items that could accelerate economic recovery. As just one example, the House has failed to pass a long-term, comprehensive highway bill, while the Senate has approved a bipartisan measure. Entrepreneurs dominate the construction sector, with 13,000 small road construction firms registered to do business with the federal government. The Senate-passed bill is projected to sustain 1.9 million good paying jobs, yet the House has been unable to come to the table and pass a workable highway bill. This is an area where there has traditionally been bipartisan cooperation, so it is disappointing to see Republicans blocking progress on this issue.

Q: What do you think should be a priority topic for the committee in its next session?

Hanna: Education is our most important industry. We need to help small businesses promote a more aggressive education agenda. I know that the committee is open to talk about this. College is not an indulgence any more. If the government is going to subsidize things at colleges it needs to go to something that is broadly productive for society. This would create people who would create small businesses. This would create people who are thinkers and innovators.

Velázquez: If our economy is truly going to turn the corner, more needs to be done to foster entrepreneurship. We should be working to strengthen the SBA’s entrepreneurial development programs. When Democrats were in the majority, we passed a suite of bills to expand resources for veterans, minorities and other Americans interested in entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, nothing has been done to improve these programs in the current Congress. In recoveries, when many dislocated workers turn to entrepreneurship to replace lost income, these initiatives are even more important and it is disappointing to see them neglected in the current Congress.

Q: Is the committee involved in all legislation that affects small business?

Tipton: Unfortunately no. For example, the Startup Act is admirable but we were not very involved with this. There are so many moving parts in Washington and we can’t be involved in all of the good ideas. I’m on three committees myself and there’s only so much time in the day. I’m back in Colorado every weekend.

Q: Given what you know now, would you recommend other small business owners to run for U.S. Congress?

Hanna: Yes. People who have something to offer and are willing to be themselves and have proven themselves in their lives should think about running for office. This place has too many career politicians.

Tipton: For small business owners I would encourage doing this. The big void in Washington is that too many have led a political life and not a life that most small business owners live. George Washington was no different than you and I. The founders of this nation did not come from institutional politics. They came from the real world and applied those principles to the government they formed. That is something a small business owner can also bring to government.

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