1998 ASBA VOTER'S GUIDE
America is in the midst of a dramatic economic and technological evolution, and small business is leading the way. But despite this explosive growth, expanded diversity and tremendous economic and social impact by small business, many of our elected leaders -
and most of the established business lobby - still fail to understand the changing needs and interests of today's entrepreneurs.
The American Small Business Alliance offers a new voice for small business in this new economy. Created by entrepreneurs tired of having all small business people portrayed as a single entity united behind the most radical views, the ASBA provides a voice of reason in an increasingly partisan battle over the direction of small business policy. The ASBA believes the best way for small business to be competitive in the 21st Century is by:
Investing in Education and Training
Creating a Productive Workplace
Improving the Affordability, Accessibility and Quality of Health Care
Expanding Opportunities in the Global Marketplace
Bringing Fairness to our Tax and Finance Systems
Enacting Responsible Government Reform
The 1998 ASBA Voter's Guide is a tabulation of votes made by Members of the 105th Congress in those issue areas. Within this guide, each Member - in both the House and the Senate - has been given a score based on the frequency in which that Member voted in agreement with ASBA views. While there were literally thousands of votes from which to choose, we carefully selected ones that clearly distinguish where each individual stood on our issues.
Through publication of this booklet and other activities, the ASBA has emerged
as the reasonable and responsible representative of small business. As we head
into the new millennium and build upon our success, the ASBA will continue to
promote an agenda to
expand economic growth, enhance entrepreneurial freedom, and develop stronger and more sustainable communities.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Few things are more fundamental to our economic future than having a trained and educated workforce. Our ability to compete in the 21st Century will rely greatly on the commitment we make - as businesses, families, communities, legislators and a nation - to providing a world-class education for our children and to training our people with relevant skills for the job market.
The ASBA believes the public school system provides the best foundation for learning. Public schools educate nearly 90 percent of America's children, and represent the cornerstone of a civil and democratic society. While we know the current system is in need of dramatic reform, we are fearful of efforts to divert public funds to private and religious institutions - as many in this Congress tried to do. Instead, our commitment should include establishing national standards for teachers and students, developing new curriculums and teaching methods, creating public-private partnerships, ensuring the availability and affordability of a college education and expanding opportunities for training.
Deny Funding for National Education Testing (no)
The Ashcroft-Hagel-Nickles amendment (to H.R. 2646) struck down the creation of a federally-sponsored national test for fourth and eighth grade students. National testing provides a standard measurement by which to assess and evaluate the progress of our
students. The Senate voted to kill the funding, 52-47.
Expand Pell Grants and Fund Child Literacy Programs (yes)
This amendment (to S. 1061) made changes in Pell Grant eligibility rules, expanding the number of independent and dependent college students who qualify for assistance. It also provided $260 million to fund a child literacy initiative. The measure passed, 96-3.
Streamline Federal Job Training Programs (yes)
A long-awaited overhaul of federal job training programs finally became law with the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (H.R 1385). It consolidated dozens of programs run by different agencies into three separate block grants to states and local governments to develop one-stop delivery systems for employment and training services. The Act also required businesspeople to help design and implement the program. The measure passed, 91-7, and was signed into law.
Extend Vocational Education Credit for Welfare-to-Work (yes)
This motion (to S. 947) extended the amount of time welfare recipients may use vocational training toward their work requirement - from 12 to 24 months. The two-year period could also be used to complete a community college education. With such a shortage of workers possessing even basic skills, we should be encouraging citizens - particularly those entering the job market - to advance their education and training. The measure failed, 55-45, without a three-fifths vote.
Deny Funding for National Education Testing (no)
Similar to the Senate, the House struck down funding for a federally-sponsored national test for fourth and eighth grade students. Many in the business community believe national tests help students, teachers, schools, communities, and the nation establish goals for achievement. The amendment (to H.R. 2264) to deny funding passed, 295-125.
Fund Education Vouchers (no)
Using public funds to pay for students to attend private and religious schools is unfair, unwise, and possibly unconstitutional. Arguments made by the Religious Right that vouchers increase competition in the public schools are made with little understanding
of market principles and with even less concern for the broader community. Instead, vouchers drain valuable resources and weaken the educational foundation of the future workforce. H.R. 2746 failed, 191-228.
Authorize Vocational and Technical Education (yes)
This bill re-authorized funding for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act (H.R. 1853) through fiscal 2002. The measure passed, 414-12.
Streamline Federal Job Training Programs (yes)
As in the Senate, the House passed the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (H.R. 1385), which consolidated some 50 existing federal job training, education and employment agencies into three block grants to the states. The measure passed, 343-60, and was
signed into law.
At many of our companies, we realized long ago that when we value our employees
and create a supportive work environment, we are rewarded with harder work,
greater dedication, heightened innovation and a healthier bottom line. This
business model now
has gained wide appeal as companies search for ways to attract and retain the top workers in this fiercely competitive labor market.
But even with the most progressive workplace policies, small businesses can
only do so much to affect the world in which they operate. On a range of issues
- from transportation, to clean water and air, to child care, to public and
workplace safety - the
government can and should play a supporting role in making small businesses and communities healthier and more productive.
Build Highways and Mass Transit Systems (yes)
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (S. 1173) gave $214.3 billion over the next six years to improve the nation's transportation infrastructure, including $41.3 billion for mass transit. In all, these projects would create 400,000 new jobs. The measure passed, 96-4.
Fund Department of Transportation Projects (yes)
In continuing with this Congress' commitment on transportation, S. 2307 allocated $13.7 billion for various road and railroad projects of the Department of Transportation and related agencies around the country. The measure passed, 90-1.
Provide Business a Tax Incentive for Child Care (yes)
Offering child care makes good business sense because it lowers the absenteeism rate and increases the productivity of working parents. Unfortunately, most small businesses don't have the ability to offer this benefit. Sen. Kohl proposed creating a 50 percent tax credit (capped at $150,000) for companies that provide for their employees' child care. The credit would apply whether the business provides care on-site or off, or uses a referral service. This amendment (to S. 949) passed, 72-28.
Increase Transportation Funding (yes)
H.R. 2400 was the largest commitment the federal government has ever made to improving the country's transportation infrastructure. Though the ASBA would liked to have seen some pork trimmed out of the $216 billion price tag, we still supported its passage. The bill passed, 297-86, and was signed into law.
Cut Workplace Safety Enforcement (no)
OSHA certainly is an agency in need of reform. But rather than bring sensible change, critics repeatedly try to cut the agency's budget and undermine its authority, raising potential harm to workers and the public. Rep. Blunt's attempt (on H.R. 2264) to remove $11.25 million from OSHA's budget failed, 160-237.
Establish Small Business Drug-Free Workplace Programs (yes)
A safe and drug-free work environment is an essential part of a productive workplace, but many small businesses don't have the resources to fund effective programs. Rep. Souder's motion (to H.R. 3853) would allocate $10 million for grants to nonprofit groups that aid small businesses in dealing with the issue. The motion was agreed to, 402-9.
Affordable, accessible and quality health care is key to making businesses, workers, families and the nation stronger and more prosperous. Unfortunately, the current health care system is heavily stacked against the needs and interests of small business. Because of their size, small employers are at a disadvantage when negotiating rates and terms of service, and don't have the time, resources or experience to navigate their way through an increasingly complex health care maze. Further, managed care's cost-cutting measures have left consumers with reduced quality, growing frustration and eroded confidence in the entire health care system.
This Congress had several opportunities to bring about fundamental change.
In 1997, with the urging of the ASBA, Congress took an important step by passing
legislation to extend health coverage to uninsured children. Unfortunately,
in 1998, Congress missed a tremendous chance to enact meaningful managed care
reform. The public and small business executives overwhelmingly favored change.
Sadly, partisan politics and a
strong lobbying effort by the insurance industry and old-line business lobby won out, leaving America's flawed health care system intact.
Table the Patients' Bill of Rights (no)
The Patients' Bill of Rights would be good for small business. It would allow small businesses to make more informed choices about which health plan to purchase, increase the quality of care consumers receive and lead to healthier and more productive
workers. Senate Republican leaders chose to ignore the public's and small business' desire for change by preventing the measure from being brought up for debate. Sen. Nickles' motion to table the bill (in S. Con. Res. 86) was successful, 51-47.
Expand Health Coverage to Uninsured Children (yes)
More than 10 million American children have no health coverage, with 90 percent of them coming from families with at least one working parent. This amendment (to S. 949) aimed to provide $24 billion over 5 years for children's health by raising the tobacco
tax. The measure passed, 80-19.
Block Increased Enforcement of Health Care Portability Law (no)
The Kassebaum-Kennedy bill was one of the most heralded pieces of health care legislation ever. That measure, which became law in 1996, increased the portability of health coverage by outlawing discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. Disturbingly - yet not surprisingly - insurance companies now are ignoring that law because there is inadequate enforcement. Sen. Kennedy's amendment (to S. 1768) to spend $8 million to hire more employees to enforce the measure was tabled, 51-49.
Increase Health Insurance Deductibility for the Self-Employed (yes)
The growing community of self-employed people deserve the right to the same tax deduction for their health care premiums that all other businesses enjoy. While the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill did set a schedule for increasing that deductibility, the Nickles
amendment (to S. 949) accelerated that even further, to a full 100 percent deduction by 2007. The measure passed, 98-0.
The Patients' Bill of Rights (yes)
The vast majority of Americans and small business executives supported the provisions of the Patients' Bill of Rights, a bi-partisan effort to improve the quality and accountability of the nation's health care system. Despite this, the House rejected the
Ganske-Dingell substitute (to H.R. 4250), 212-217.
Flawed Patient Protection Measures (no)
In a partisan effort to block a meaningful Patients' Bill of Rights, the House leadership drafted its own bill (H.R. 4250) that contained inadequate patient protections, left out health plan liability and inserted poison pills like Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs) and Health Marts. The measure passed, 216-210.
Expand Health Coverage to Uninsured Children (yes)
Having a nation of insured children makes sense - both ethically and economically. Children with health coverage are sick less often, meaning their parents don't have to miss work, and they are able to get regular care as opposed to going to the emergency
room, which drives up health care costs for everyone. In balancing the budget, (H. Con. Res. 84) the House committed $16 billion over five years to provide health coverage to up to 5 million currently uninsured children. The measure was adopted, 333-99.
It is no longer just the GMs and Boeings that are affected by America's trade and foreign policy. Now businesses of all sizes and types make and sell their products and services in countries all around the world. The spread of democracy and open market economies, recent international trade agreements, and advances in technology have all spurred the development of this global marketplace.
While the ASBA is a proponent of free trade, our members also believe in human
and worker rights, in environmental standards, and in a trade policy that doesn't
simply shower tax breaks and subsidies on large corporations. The ASBA believes
our global economic interests without abandoning basic American values.
The 105th Congress continued the contentious - yet healthy - debate over our trade status with China, and in the end, emerged with the sensible outcome. We continue to have concerns that initiatives such as the Market Access Program are a waste of American tax dollars, but at the same time believe that overseas investment through the Export-Import Bank and other agencies can be a boon for American companies - as long as small businesses are included fairly.
Withdraw Most Favored Nation Status with China (no)
China's increasingly open markets provide lucrative financial opportunities for American companies, both large and small. With "normal trade relations" (also known as Most Favored Nation status) and an American foreign policy that engages China's leadership and promotes human rights and the rule of law, China is on the path to implementing even more democratic reforms. Still, many in Congress are skeptical, and they introduced a measure (to S. 955) to withdraw MFN. The measure failed, 22-77.
Increase the Number of Visas for Skilled Foreign Workers (yes)
The American Competitiveness Act (S. 1723) would increase the availability of skilled labor to American businesses by increasing the number of working visas to skilled foreign workers from 65,000 to 95,000 in 1998, and allowing up to 115,000 visas to be
distributed in 1999 and 2000. A new category also gives 10,000 visas a year to health care workers. The bill passed, 78-20.
Grant 'Fast Track' Authority (yes)
S. 1269 would give the President "fast-track" authority in trade negotiations, meaning Congress could only accept or reject trade deals in their entirety. While we believe Congress should have a say in trade policy, an agreement bogged down in amendments
undermines the President's ability to negotiate effectively and could hurt our prospects for free trade. The motion to consider "fast-track" authority was agreed to, 69-31.
Preserve the Market Access Program (no)
Sen. Bryan tried to eliminate funding for the Market Access Program, a wasteful initiative that pays out more than $100 million to subsidize overseas marketing budgets of mostly large American corporations. Unfortunately, the program lives on thanks to Sen. Cochran's motion (to S. 2159) to table the Bryan amendment, which passed, 70-29.
Oppose Normal Trade Relations with China (no)
For years, Congress has been split over our trade policy with China. While some argue trading freely with China sends the wrong message about their labor and human rights policies, others contend - and we are cautiously hopeful - that a better way to bring about desired change is through incentives and economic engagement. H.J. Res. 121 sought to revoke MFN, and was defeated, 166-264.
Provide Assistance to Responsible U.S. Companies in China (yes)
Rep. Evans' amendment (to H.R. 1370) demonstrated that responsible public policy doesn't have to interfere with free trade. This measure directed the Export-Import Bank to give preference to U.S. firms seeking assistance for activities in China that adhere to internationally-recognized human and workers' rights standards. The measure passed, 241-182.
Cancel Funding for Federal Export and Investment Assistance (no)
We believe our government can and should play a role in creating and expanding opportunities for American companies trying to compete globally, as long as it is done efficiently and includes small business. This amendment by Rep. Paul (to H.R. 2159) was an extreme attempt to kill all federal export and investment assistance. The measure failed, 40-387.
TAXES AND FINANCE
Few would disagree that the current tax system is a complex and overwhelming puzzle for any small business. For many companies, it is not so much the amount being paid - we all should pay our fair share - but rather the confusion that goes along with it.
Even with that said, this Congress' attempt to abolish the tax code - while offering no replacement - was poor public policy mixed with a heavy dose of political grandstanding. Fortunately, the effort ultimately failed. Congress did pass a substantial, yet still responsible, tax bill that included long-overdue estate tax reforms and tax credits for college tuition. Also, Congress tried to increase SBA funding to give women entrepreneurs a boost and small businesses greater access to capital.
Taxpayer Relief Act (yes)
Education, savings and investment tax incentives and a welfare-to-work tax credit for employers were among items in this conference report (H.R. 2014) implementing portions of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. The measure passed, 92-8, and was signed into law.
Eliminate the Tax Code (no)
While the tax code does need simplification, eliminating it completely - particularly without a new one in its place - is a rash and irresponsible move aimed at scoring cheap political points. This measure (S. 2312) would have done just that, striking the tax
code in 2003 and specifying that Congress approve a new code to replace it by 2002. Without three-fifths of the Senate's approval, the measure failed, 49-49.
Uphold the Community Reinvestment Act (yes)
Even as many banks merge and become national chains, we still believe all financial institutions should have a responsibility to serve the communities in which they operate. Sen. D'Amato stopped an amendment (to H.R. 1151) that would exempt small banks and
savings and loans from the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which requires federally-insured institutions to have good lending records in their communities before a branch opening, merger or other endeavor is allowed. The exemption was defeated when the
amendment was successfully tabled, 59-39.
Taxpayer Relief Act (yes)
Responsibly lowering taxes can spur economic growth and help small businesses thrive. The Taxpayer Relief Act (H.R. 2014) provided $95.3 billion in tax cuts over five years, including a tax credit of up to $1,500 a year for the first two years of college, a tax credit for children under 17, a capital gains tax cut and a gradual raise from $600,000 to $1 million in the amount exempt from federal estate tax. The measure passed, 389-43, and was signed into law.
Eliminate the Tax Code (no)
Like the Senate, the House brought up the illogical idea of terminating the current tax code in favor of a different, to-be-determined one by 2003. If H.R. 3097 became law,
businesses would be unable to plan for the future because they wouldn't know what rules they'd be playing under. Plus, most economists believe any new tax code would be worse for small business because it would not include all the beneficial tax credits and incentives aimed at aiding small employers. The House passed this measure, 232-188.
Expand Access to Capital for Small Businesses (yes)
H.R. 3412 re-authorized activities of the Small Business Investment Companies program that uses SBA guarantees to leverage private capital for investment in small businesses. The motion was agreed to, 407-0.
Boost Funding for Loans and Women's Business Centers (yes)
H.R. 2261 re-authorized SBA programs through fiscal 2000. Loan funding would be gradually increased each year, and Women's Business Centers would get a boost - from $4 million to $8 million annually. The measure passed, 397-17.
Government requirements can be overwhelming. Many small businesses spend an inordinate amount of time filling out forms, complying with confusing and duplicative regulations and trying to figure out if and why certain laws apply to them.
Some people believe the best answer is for business to be completely unregulated. While this view may seem appealing at times, we think ultimately it is shortsighted. Instead, we believe in striking an appropriate balance where regulations are in place that ensure fairness and facilitate economic development, but don't inhibit American's entrepreneurial spirit or undermine the market responsiveness of small business.
While we are grateful that this Congress finally brought about long-overdue changes at the IRS, we remain disappointed that the campaign finance system was left unchanged, a victim of partisan politics in the Senate. This leaves the money and power in the hands of big business and special interests, and a weakened voice for small business and the American people.
Overhaul the Internal Revenue Service (yes)
After approval in the House, the Senate passed H.R. 2676, which established a long-overdue reorganization of the IRS. With this overhaul, small businesses get an IRS division all their own, as the IRS shifts away from serving geographic regions to a
constituency-focused system. The burden of proof in tax disputes will also be shifted from the taxpayer to the IRS, and the IRS will be allowed to contract out services like computer systems help - a boon for high-tech consulting firms. Electronic filing will also be expanded and promoted. The measure passed, 97-0, and was signed into law.
Reform the Campaign Finance System (yes)
Sweeping reform legislation was introduced to ban soft money contributions and party spending on behalf of Senate candidates who use more than $50,000 of their own money on their campaigns. It also reduced special-interest group contribution limits to that of an individual and allowed random post-election audits to ensure compliance. A three-fifths vote was needed to cut off debate and consider the bill (S. 25), but proponents fell short,
Outlaw Long-Distance Phone Slamming and Regulate Junk E-mail (yes)
Small businesses often are victimized by telecommunications companies' aggressive tactics. This bill (S. 1618) would ban long distance phone slamming, which occurs when a subscriber's service is switched without their knowledge or consent. The bill also required unsolicited electronic mail (spam) to provide a return address and a way for recipients to remove themselves from junk e-mail lists. The measure passed, 99-0.
Overhaul the Internal Revenue Service (yes)
H.R. 2676 will make the IRS more taxpayer friendly, including establishing a special division just for small business. The measure passed, 426-4, and was signed into law.
Small Business Paperwork Reduction (yes)
Instead of being slapped with civil fines, small business that, for the first time, fail to meet paperwork requirements could get a break with an amendment (to H.R. 3310) aimed to protect businesses that make innocent mistakes or oversights. Government agencies
would be able to waive, delay, or reduce penalties for businesses that act in good faith to correct problems. The measure was rejected, 183-221.
Pass Campaign Finance Reform (yes)
Unlike the Senate, which shot down campaign finance reform, the House voted in favor of revising current regulations for financing federal campaigns. The Shays-Meehan amendment (to H.R. 2183) bans soft money contributions to national, state and local
parties and caps contributions during each election cycle. The measure also included new reporting requirements to the Federal Election Commission during election time, which the FEC would be required to post promptly on the Internet. The measure passed, 237-186.
Improve the Patent System for Small Business (yes)
For many small businesses and entrepreneurs, intellectual property is an invaluable asset. Unfortunately, the current patent system provides inadequate protection. To increase security, an amendment (to H.R. 400) by Rep. Kaptur aimed to stop the Patent and Trademark Office from publishing the patent applications of small businesses, universities and individual investors until their patents are granted. The measure passed,