The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Gene Marks: Why Hillary Clinton could be your small business president

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton actually mentioned small business during the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Will Hillary Clinton really be your “small business” president? She’s certainly trying.

Just last summer, Clinton said she wants to be our small business president and promised to cut red tape, simplify tax filings, target more tax credits to small business owners and make it easier to get financing. She toured parts of the country meeting with small business owners. She made it a point to mention small businesses during the most recent Democratic debate. And, in contrast to her opponents, she actually lists “small business” as a campaign issue on her Website.

Clinton is no dummy. She knows that the 30-40 million small business owners in America make a large and influential voting block. She knows that most of us are middle class. Winning our hearts could very well mean winning the election in 2016.

So will she win our hearts? Of course, every candidate says they support small business. They each vow to cut red tape and simplify the tax code. They all favor more financing options and tax incentives. How do you not support small business when running for office? It’s like saying you don’t support cancer research or saving the environment. Rhetoric is nice, but we want the details. What does Hillary Clinton really plan to do that will help my business and yours? Is she for real, or is this just politics? Let’s see.

The federal budget and the economy. Clinton has not yet released her economic plan or how she would go about addressing our country’s enormous budget deficits and spiraling national debt, which is now about 110 percent of the gross domestic product and will once again force Congress to authorize an increase in our debt ceiling before the end of the year. Some say that as long as deficits stay within an acceptable percentage of our overall economy then they’re manageable. But as we’ve seen in Europe and Japan, out of control debt caused by excessive government spending can cripple economies, roil markets and bankrupt small business and the only way out, short of explosive growth, seems to be punishing tax increases combined with sequestration. So far, Clinton is promising more government spending on infrastructure, the environment, social security and education, along with tax cuts for the middle class. Like other candidates, she’s providing no explanation how this will be paid for or what impact this will have on future deficits. That’s a warning sign for businesses of every size.

Labor. Clinton is very labor and workforce friendly. She supports an increase in the national minimum wage and President’s Obama’s call for a federal law requiring employers to provide paid time off. She is a champion of women and LGBT rights and favors federal regulations that protect their freedoms. She is a strong backer of unions (and so are they of she) and insists that equal pay, paid family leave, earned sick days, fair schedules, and quality affordable child care are necessities, not luxuries. She promises to promote pay transparency across the economy and work to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act to help women fight workplace discrimination. And she’s offering a tax credit to eligible businesses that provide training. These are good things, of course. But many business owners are concerned with the cost and the threat of more regulation from Washington that places greater control over how they run their businesses, who they can hire and fire and what decisions they need to make to grow and remain profitable.

Wall Street. Clinton and her husband, the former president, both personally and through their foundation, have a long relationship with many powerful people on Wall Street. But that is not stopping her from pushing forward an agenda that would impose more restrictions on banks, hedge funds and other financial institutions. Among her initiatives would be a “risk fee” on those institutions that are more apt to contribute to another financial crisis, the closing of loopholes that favor hedge funds and the accountability of individual corporate executives if and when problems occur. She’s smartly avoiding the “fat cat” rhetoric of the current administration and pushing to provide more security without hindering capital generation. Most small business owners I know appreciate the capital and liquidity that Wall Street provides but, like Clinton, are also unhappy with its excesses. The concern is imposing so many controls that capital is restricted.

Healthcare. I do not know a single small business owner in America who does not support a system that provides affordable healthcare for all. It is what great countries do. This is not the issue. The issue is over the size, the complexity and how this would be paid for. Most small business owners, having less than 50 employees, are exempt from the more significant requirements of the law. But they are all concerned about the costs, both known and unknown, of this enormous undertaking. In contrast to every single one of her Republican opponents, Clinton is a supporter of the Affordable Care Act and will work to expand it, along with social security and Medicare. If you are also a supporter of the Affordable Care Act and believe that its benefits to your business outweigh the potential long term costs then you will support Clinton. If, however, you believe that your business is better off with more of a free market and/or regionally based healthcare system then you won’t support her.

The bottom line: As a small business owner you can expect from Clinton a continuation of President Obama’s economic policies. This may be good news…or not. With more than 30 million small businesses in this country one can’t make that generalization for them all. If your business has been profiting and growing to your satisfaction under President Obama and you’re happy with more of the same (and a little Bill thrown in), then Clinton may very well be the right choice for you. As polarizing as she is, however, it still remain a question whether she can bring together the coalition she’ll need in Congress to actually get anything done.

Gene Marks authors Main Street Morning, a daily round-up of small business news for The Washington Post. He owns the Marks Group,  a Bala Cynwyd  Pa.  consulting firm that helps clients with customer relationship management. Follow Gene Marks and On Small Business on Twitter.