You remember the drill from high school civics class: The legislative branch passes the law, and the executive branch administers it. That means interest groups in Washington get two whacks at the laws impacting your business.
They can persuade a congressperson or senator to introduce a bill that changes current law. Last year, for instance, Congress eliminated the estate tax after years of small-business groups railing against it. In broad terms, badgering Congress is what the NFIB and most other small-business advocacy groups are all about.
It's a smart focus. Every member of Congress has hundreds of small businesses in his or her district or state. "They're the ones who can put signs in the window and talk to customers about you," says Phil Eskeland, Republican policy director for the House Small Business Committee. "Politicians ignore small business at their peril." That helps explain the motherhood-and-apple-pie support for most small-business legislation.
Congress, however, generally passes laws in broad outline, then asks the civil service to flesh out the details. It's a little like the marketing department sending engineering a general idea for a new product. How Washington's permanent bureaucracy-the nation's engineers-converts the idea into reality requires plenty of decisions. Each choice is open to an interpretation that small-business lobbyists try to influence. They want the regulation's impact to be as beneficial to your business as possible.
Late in 2001, for instance, the IRS raised the limit for using cash accounting to $10 million in annual revenue after persistent lobbying from numerous organizations, notably the Small Business Legislative Council (SBLC). "It's not the kind of thing that makes headlines, but it needs to get done," says John Satagaj, the SBLC's president and general counsel. (See March "Tax Talk" for more on the accounting change.)
Roughly speaking, the two approaches are revolution (legislate) or evolution (regulate). You may also recall from civics, however, that the Founding Fathers made evolution the default setting for our government-although revolution is a lot more fun.
Unfortunately, neither type of change happens overnight. "A lot of things don't get resolved quickly," says Eskeland. "We keep pushing the same rock up the hill."