- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

President Bush’s re-election and the Republican Party’s larger membership in the next Congress have made small-business advocacy groups optimistic about some of the issues on their agendas.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) welcomed Mr. Bush’s re-election last week.

“We believe very strongly that this president — probably more than any other in my recollection — has gone out of his way to be a supporter of small business,” said Dan Danner, the NFIB’s senior vice president for public policy.

“We are optimistic that will continue,” Mr. Danner said.

With health care costs a major concern for business owners, the election has raised hopes that national association health plans (AHPs) will become a reality in the second Bush term. Under AHPs, small businesses can buy into group health insurance plans anywhere in the country, giving them greater leeway in shopping for a cheaper plan.

Although Mr. Bush endorsed the AHPs concept in this year’s State of the Union address, a bill to create national plans stalled in the Senate after winning approval in the House. Now, with the Republicans winning four new seats in the Senate, giving them a margin of 55-44 over the Democrats, with one independent, “we may see some more movement on AHPs,” said Erin Fuller, executive director of the Washington-based National Association of Women Business Owners, which supports creation of the plans.

AHPs also are supported by the NFIB, which also is based in Washington. Mr. Danner predicted health care will be part of an aggressive small-business agenda during the president’s second term.

Small-business groups also expect to see more tax-cut legislation this term.

Although there were two big tax bills during the first Bush term, “we are optimistic that [taxes] will be a much bigger issue than people realize,” said Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association.

At the very least, the groups expect that tax cuts passed during the past four years and that are scheduled to expire between now and 2010 will be made permanent, including the expanded $100,000 deduction for small business’ equipment purchases.

“Some plan should be on the agenda pretty early on to address that,” Mr. McCracken said.

Mr. McCracken’s group also is looking to correct one of the inequities of the Internal Revenue Code that allows employees of large companies to pay for their health insurance premiums on a pretax basis, saving them money, but that doesn’t give small-business owners the same treatment.

Business advocates also expect tort reform, which would limit business’ liability in lawsuits, to become more of a priority in the next session of Congress. A bill that would put limits on class-action lawsuits was another casualty of congressional deadlock this year, and Mr. Danner said the changes in the makeup of the Senate might help move along that legislation next time.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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