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Bush Woos Women Business Owners

Critics question whether budget works in women's favor

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The Bush Administration held nothing back in its effort to win support from 1,300 businesswomen who descended on the nation's capitol last week to attend a free conference organized by Women Impacting Public Policy and sponsored by the Department of Labor. President Bush spoke for more than half an hour, outlining a five-point plan to boost entrepreneurship in America, including support for association health plans to reduce the cost of health insurance for employers.

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"It's so important that our country maintain the flame of freedom--the entrepreneurial spirit," said Bush, adding that "ours is an increasingly women's world," since women are starting new businesses twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. population.

He and other cabinet officials, including the female secretaries of agriculture and labor, promised to help women obtain more federal contracts, simplify the tax code and reduce the burden of government regulation. "Every agency will be required to analyze the impact of a new regulation on small business," said Bush, urging attendees to contact the Office of Management and Budget if they have problems or suggestions about constricting federal regulations.

Senators and congressional representatives lined up to speak during the two-day program at the Ronald Reagan Convention Center, pledging to totally repeal the federal estate tax known as the "death tax," which is set to come back to life in 2011. "The death tax is in a coma, but is still on life support," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-TX). "We need to pull the plug on the death tax."

Rep. Don Manzullo (R-IL), a member of the House Small Business Committee, said he's been holding hearings to end the practice of contract bundling, which encourages the government to work with large companies vs. small. "We call it contract bungling," said Manzullo. "The U.S. Army is great at fighting wars, but terrible at ordering equipment."

Manzullo said his committee recently stopped the Government Printing Office from ordering 104,000 baseball caps from a Chinese company, redirecting the order to an American firm. "We are going after the biggest enemy of small business--the federal government," he said.

Still, the budget passed last week cuts by half the SBA's 7(a) loan guarantee program, according to Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez, ranking Democrat on the House Small Business Committee. "The President stood before a group of women entrepreneurs and told them he supported small business," said Velazquez in a statement. "Unfortunately, his budget priorities work contrary to their best interests."

The budget also eliminates four programs designed to help entrepreneurs in low-income communities, including the One-Stop Capital Shops and a mentoring program. Electronic polls conducted throughout the conference, which was underwritten by America Online and American Express, provided some insights into the attendees.

Fifty-seven percent of the women attending said they wish they had more money, compared with 43 percent who wished they had more time. Sixty-four percent said the number-one quality they sought in their employees was a good attitude, and 53 percent still relied on personal savings to fuel the growth of their business. Sixty-one percent of attendees said creating a "family-friendly environment" at work was extremely important.

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