Olympia Snowe (R-ME) was surprised to find herself chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, because she expected Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO) to resume the position in the new Congress. But Snowe brings experience. "Maine's economy is almost exclusively small businesses," says Dave Lackey, Snowe's communications director, "so the senator has to understand their issues."
As a member of the committee, Snowe previously focused on preventing health-care costs from spiraling-she co-sponsored legislation that would allow self-employed businesspeople to take a 100 percent deduction for health insurance. As chair, she plans to make health care her top priority. Lackey says Snowe "can't go more than 20 feet in Maine without hearing from small businesses about health-insurance problems." To keep costs down, he says, Snowe will probably sponsor hearings on small businesses' health-insurance crisis and then push legislation addressing rising costs. This legislation may include promoting association health plans and loosening restrictions on medical savings accounts.
Snowe also plans to focus on expanding entrepreneurs' access to international trade. "Small businesses too often are ignored in trade issues in favor of large companies," says Lackey. Snowe has worked to create an assistant U.S. trade representative position, dedicated to promoting small-business exports, and plans to push legislation designed to educate entrepreneurs about trade opportunities and promote microloans to small exporters.
Finally, Lackey says, Snowe is committed to the SBA's flagship 7(a) loan program, a major source of capital for entrepreneurs who had been targeted for cuts by the White House. "Senator Snowe wants to make sure the long-term future of the 7(a) program never comes into doubt," says Lackey. "She knows how important it is to small business."