After years of being the third rail of American politics, Social Security is now finally up for serious discussion. Entrepreneurs, who pay half their employees' payroll taxes, recognize this as an opportunity to address the need for improved retirement policies for small firms.
"Most of our membership did not have more than $50,000 saved for their retirement," says Thayer. "That's indicative of most entrepreneurs." An improved Social Security system could provide the retirement that owners want for themselves and their employees.
Bush kicked off the debate by not accepting common wisdom to leave it alone. He recognizes that the government needs to guarantee existing benefits for current recipients and those "near retirement," and also plans to put Social Security surpluses into the trust fund to ensure its future solvency.
However, Bush also wants to allow individual workers to tap their payroll taxes for use in private investment accounts. He wants workers to get the greater long-run returns available from stocks and bonds, rather than the measly 2 percent return currently paid by Social Security. Would that mean workers would have to trade reduced benefits from the Social Security Trust Fund for the right to invest? Bush had not filled in the details by press time.
Gore wants to keep the existing Social Security system pretty much as it is-except with increased benefits for widows, widowers and mothers who've spent years raising kids. Gore's proposal would dedicate the Social Security surplus to reducing the national debt and creating interest savings to be applied to the Social Security trust fund, keeping the program fiscally sound through at least 2050. The vice president recognizes the need for additional savings, however. In June, he proposed Social Security Plus--a voluntary retirement system to supplement existing Social Security. It does not reduce or redirect payroll taxes.
But this position, and any other, is subject to change as Gore and Bush tack between competing interests in their race for the presidency. Plan on turning to the Internet for the latest updates. (See "Parties Online" below.) Read the fine print, because entrepreneurs tend to get lots of praise but few concrete policy proposals.
Whether Republican or Democrat, voting for a president goes beyond party lines when you take into account whose policies will help your business grow and succeed. Take a close look at the candidates--you may be surprised at whose ideas you favor.
In 1996, the presidential campaigns finally started tapping the power of the Internet to get their messages out. In 2000, both Democratic and Republican campaigns have developed extensive Web sites to put out their policies . . . and hype. The best way to keep abreast of breaking developments is to read the politicians' speeches rather than rely on the broadcast networks' interpretations. Better still, the "Find" feature on most Web browsers lets you skip to the heart of the matter by searching for the first reference of "small business" or "entrepreneur" in a lengthy spiel.
Though the spin-meisters don't exist on television alone, the following sites can help you gather more information to make an educated choice:
Vice President Al Gore's official campaign site: www.algore2000.com
Governor George W. Bush's official campaign site: www.georgewbush.com
U.S. Chamber of Commerce's campaign site: www.chamberbiz.com/government/politics.cfm
CSPAN's campaign site: www.c-span.org/campaign2000
PBS Democracy Project: www.pbs.org/democracy
CNN's campaign site: www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2000
The Los Angeles Times' campaign site: www.latimes.com/news/politics/elect2000/pres
The New York Times' campaign site: www.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp (requires free registration)
The Washington Post's campaign site: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/politics/elections/2000
It Matters To Us
NS Intersearch polled 1,122 entrepreneurs in March for American Express Small Business Services to find out what was on the minds of entrepreneurs heading into the presidential election. As this story goes to print, it remains the most comprehensive independent snapshot of entrepreneurial concerns. The 10 most important issues are:
1. Improving schools/training young people for work
2. Affordable health care for employees
3. Affordable health care for business owners
4. Tax cuts/tax reform
5. Reducing government regulations and paperwork
6. Interest rates
8. Reducing the budget deficit
9. Reducing estate ("death") taxes
10. Reducing Social Security/payroll taxes