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Friend Or Foe?

With elections approaching, Republicans and Democrats fight for small-business support.

The Clinton administration crushed a critical IRS provision in the small-business regulatory reform bill the president signed on March 29. And the House GOP promises to turn the Small Business Committee into sawdust in the next Congress. Yet with the opening of the national 1996 campaign season, both Democrats and Republicans are throwing their arms around the shoulders of small business and squeezing tight, as if mimicking the popular TV show "Friends."

Republicans have been especially quick to claim political sponsorship of small business, given the election of numerous small-business people to the House in 1994. Soon after that election, Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee, declared the GOP the party of "Main Street." Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX), the House Republican whip and third-ranking House member, has repeatedly said the federal regulatory angst he suffered as a small-business owner catapulted him into politics.

"What we accomplished for small business this session-a balanced budget that would have led to lower interest rates-the president has vetoed," says DeLay. "You can't look at tax policy and the growth of the federal government, particularly federal regulation, and not believe, in your wildest dreams, that the Democrats were not responsible."

Not surprisingly, Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN), a well-regarded member of the Senate Small Business Committee, has a different perspective. "The Republicans are more attentive to Wall Street and protecting big business subsidies than they are to small business," he says.

Wellstone is the odd case of a senator who actually agitated to get on the Small Business Committee, which has limited jurisdiction and even less visibility. A university professor when he was elected, he was encouraged to seek a committee post by two small-business owners in his home town of Northfield, Minnesota.

"Everyone seems to love the small-business person in the abstract, but follow-up on public policy is often lacking," says Wellstone. "Both parties can do much better."

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This article was originally published in the July 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Friend Or Foe?.

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