The recent election, which gave President George W. Bush a second term and increased Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, came after a bitter campaign season. Now, some in Washington are preaching a message of conciliation between the two parties. But major divides remain.
Entrepreneur's "Point/Counterpoint" team, Arizona Republican congressman Rick Renzi, who just won re-election for the first time, and veteran New York Democratic congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, return to Congress ready to battle for what they believe in--and to reach across the aisle when they can help small businesses. They spoke with Entrepreneur shortly after the November election.
In your district, what were voters--and small businesses'--major concerns? What will be done about them in the next Congress?
Rep. Renzi: National security [and] the big threats to small business: the cost of energy and health care. Gas prices in Phoenix were some of the highest in the nation last summer. It shows how vulnerable we are to energy problems. We've got to allow U.S. energy reserves in domestic lands to be unlocked. We can't box ourselves into extreme environmental policies.
Rep. Velázquez: Regulatory reform. This administration holds the single-year record for the increase in the burden of paperwork on small businesses.
Regarding health care, what do you think we're likely to see in the upcoming Congress?
Velázquez: Bush hasn't moved at all on association health plans, which could help handle the health-care crisis.
Renzi: We need transferable health-care coverage, sold online, where [individuals] can buy it and own it, and it's portable. Health savings accounts and association health plans are gap-fillers, not real ways to reform the system.
What is the outlook for the SBA and its loan programs, including the 7(a) program?
Renzi: I support the president's proposed funding levels, and I will also work with my colleagues in Congress to pass legislation that would allow the SBA to guarantee more and larger loans.
There are other issues, too, that the SBA needs to focus on. Combining multiple contracts into a single larger contract puts small businesses at a disadvantage, reduces competition, and has not been proven to reduce the cost to taxpayers.
Also, small businesses should be able to treat their company vehicles like they do other pieces of business equipment. Small businesses that need delivery trucks, vans or small vehicles should not be disadvantaged because their vehicles weigh less than 6,000 pounds.
Velázquez: The president has said how committed he is to small businesses, but when we've proposed fully funding the SBA and increasing loan programs, he stalled. And he's made it harder for small businesses to get SBA loans, with more fees.
Do you expect Congress to be less partisan or more partisan now? What is the responsibility of each party in terms of partisanship?
Velázquez: President Bush came to [Washington,] DC, four years ago claiming to be a uniter, not a divider. But he's spent four years doing the opposite, and now we have a drastically divided country. Now the president says he wants to bring the country together. It's up to him.
Renzi: I think you'll see a bit of a grace period, but the nastiness will come back before the next election. Right now, we have to get together to tackle big issues, like health care and Social Security reform. Now is the time. We've got a president with nothing to lose.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a writer in Washington, DC.