SBA chief defends Obama’s small business record at convention


Small Business Administrator Karen Mills addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte on Wednesday. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
September 6, 2012

The Small Business Administration’s top official on Wednesday applauded President Obama’s work on behalf of entrepreneurs and business owners, defending an area of the president’s record that has been at the center of relentless attacks from Republicans.

In a short speech to the Democratic National Convention, Karen Mills assured voters that Obama has consistently emphasized the importance of small businesses in his broader economic policies, repeatedly lowering their taxes and easing regulations to help them hire and expand over the course of his first term.

“From day one, President Obama has made small businesses a top priority in his White House, giving them the tools they need to turn their dreams into small businesses, and their small businesses into world-class companies,” Mills told the crowd in Charlotte. “Giving them help, and then getting out of their way.”

The SBA administrator painted a far brighter picture of the current small business landscape compared to the one the president inherited in 2009, when credit markets were frozen and business owners were concerned not with growth, but with survival.

Since then, she said, the administration has repeatedly reduced tax rates for small business owners, eliminated burdensome paperwork and regulatory hurdles, and reduced by half the time allotted to pay small contractors. Under Obama’s watch, the SBA has also doled out an all-time record number of government-backed loans.

“Today, small business owners are having very different conversations than they were three-and-a-half years ago,” Mills said. “Today, they’re talking about strategies to fill larger orders, blueprints for bigger factories, and plans to hire more workers.”

Quite the opposite, say Republicans, who spent plenty of time last week marketing their ticket to small business owners. Many of them believe Obama has made life increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs by imposing dozens of new regulations, forcing their hands with the health-care reform law and promoting tax increases on the wealthy that they say will hit business owners especially hard.

In particular, Mitt Romney’s campaign has latched on to Obama’s “you didn’t build that remark,” repeatedly suggesting it as evidence that the president does not understand the challenges facing small business owners.

“All the corner shops in our towns and cities, the restaurants, cleaners, gyms, hair salons, hardware stores — these didn’t come out of nowhere,” Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said during his speech last week. “If small business people say they made it on their own, all they are saying is that nobody else worked seven days a week in their place. Nobody showed up in their place to open the door at five in the morning, nobody did their thinking and worrying and sweating for them.”

While the candidates are essentially tied in the latest national polls, Romney has opened up a large lead among small business voters. A recent survey showed 61 percent of small business owners favor the Republican challenger compared to only 26 percent who plan to vote for Obama, though many respondents said their votes could swing based on the topics discussed during the conventions.

Massachusetts’ Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren shot back at Romney during a speech on Wednesday, casting her state’s former governor as a wealthy, exploitative politician who plays by different rules than most small business owners.

“I talk to small business owners all across Massachusetts,” Warren said. “Not one of them, not one, made big bucks from the risky Wall Street bets that brought down our economy. I talk to nurses and programmers, salespeople and firefighters, people who bust their tails every day. Not one of them, not one, stashes their money in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.”

President Obama will have a chance to defend his own record and state his case to small business owners when he takes the stage to officially accept his nomination on Thursday.

Follow J.D. Harrison and On Small Business on Twitter.

Which party has more effectively reached out to small business owners and entrepreneurs during its convention? Please share your take in the comments below.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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