NSBA Small Business Congress Recap

March 2, 2011

Last week, NSBA held its biennial Small Business Congress in Washington, D.C. and played host to small-business leaders from across the country. The event is held every two years at the beginning of each new session of Congress where small-business owners hear from policy experts and then work to craft the organization’s agenda for the coming two years.

The event was kicked off Wednesday afternoon by a working reception and orientation during which participants were encouraged to discuss the various issues as well as bring to the table new issues for consideration. Small Business Congress Chair Cookie Driscoll of Pennsylvania, and NSBA Chair Larry Nannis of Massachusetts, kicked off Thursday’s activities which included presentations from a spate of policy experts and then the working group sessions where attendees debated the issues and developed a ballot for the voting process. Attendees then voted for their top priorities resulting in NSBA’s official Top 10 Priorities.

The first formal session was a panel focused on the recently passed health care law and future opportunities for constructive improvements that would benefit small businesses.

Dr. Len Nichols, who currently runs the Center for Health Policy and Ethics at George Mason University, spoke in favor of the underlying principles of the new law. Nichols argued that while the new law is not perfect, it does provides a framework that will transform the delivery of health care services and reorganize the health care system in a constructive manner. These reforms, Nichols asserted, are essential with respect to altering health care costs since the previous health care system had resulted in such dire consequences for small businesses.

Mr. Edmund Haislmaier, a senior research fellow of health policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, also joined the panel to offer a slightly different perspective on the recent health care law. Notwithstanding his assertions that the new law is bad policy, Haislmaier argued that states have a tremendous opportunity to redefine health care reform through the development of their state-based health insurance exchanges. Haislmaier contended that states should structure their exchanges in a manner that places consumers at the focal point; that is, he argued, that exchanges should realign incentives to drive consumers, not payers or insurers, to make reasonable health care decisions that result in cost savings and improved quality of care.

Up next was a panel discussing access to capital and entrepreneurship. New York University Stern School of Businesses Professor Jeremy Wiesen (retired), the former chairman and co-CEO of the Financial News Network, acquired by CNBC in 1990; and, a founder and officer of Tofutti Brands Inc., spoke to the Congress about the need for a U.S. industrial policy and how well the Startup America initiative recently announced by the Obama Administration fit that bill. John Tozzi, who covers small-business issues for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, gave an overview of the recent history and current landscape in small-business lending.

This was followed by a tax panel featuring House Ways and Means Committee Majority Staff Director Jon Traub and Legislative Aide to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) John O’Neill. Both speakers stressed the need to reform and simply our tax system in a way that creates more jobs. While the Obama administration believes corporate tax reform could be done separately—several lawmakers including Traub’s boss Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Sen. Wyden—have called for a more comprehensive tax reform, in part because many small businesses actually use individual rates when filing. Both speakers acknowledged this position in their presentations, stating that individual and corporate should be addressed together.

O’Neill went on to discuss one approach offered by his boss, the Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act that was introduced during the 111th Congress with Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). The Wyden-Gregg bill eliminates many of the current tax expenditures for special interests, and reforms the thousands of deductions, credits and other preferences that currently clutter the tax code into a simpler and fairer system that businesses can more easily navigate. The speakers emphasized that both the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee have started holding hearings on the potential impact of tax reform on businesses.

Speaking just before the final panel, NSBA was joined by Ginger Lew, Senior Advisor to the White House National Economic Council and the SBA Administrator. Ms. Lew spoke about the challenges of entrepreneurship and outlined some of the administration’s key efforts to aide small-business owners through the economic downturn.

Rounding out the speakers was a panel on environmental and regulatory affairs featuring Michelle Moore, who serves as a Federal Environmental Executive within the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Moore detailed the Obama Administration’s Better Building initiative and how it relates to small businesses, as well as the president’s Executive Order on Federal Sustainability and small-business contracting. Former Chief Counsel for Advocacy Tom Sullivan, now with the Washington office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, highlighted recent developments with regulatory reform and examined the outlook for reform in the current Congress.

The 2011 Small Business Congress provided many NSBA members the unique ability to raise new issues and debate past priority issues. The afternoon working group sessions offered a lively debate of the key issues and resulted in a strong ballot of priority issues on which attendees voted.

Please click here to view NSBA’s Top 10 Priority Issues for the 112th Congress.