Obama's Economic Agenda Could Affect Small Business

Even if you're name's not Joe the Plumber, Obama's plan could affect you.

— -- A new Democratic administration and Congress means that 27 million U.S. small-business owners — already shaken badly by the economic slump — could face an array of new issues, from potentially higher taxes to costlier workplace benefits.

"There's a whole different set of issues on the table now," says Todd McCracken, president of the National Small Business Association.

Some small businesses fear that President-elect Barack Obama and lawmakers might seek to:

•Raise capital gains, personal income, estate and other small-business-related taxes.

•Require small firms with less than 50 employees to provide health care and other workplace benefits for employees.

•Clamp down on free trade, which has boosted export sales for small businesses in retail, manufacturing and other sectors.

In a 10-point plan for Congress, Todd Stottlemyer, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, recommends that lawmakers slash health insurance costs through tax credits, and allow small-business owners to use current losses to offset taxes in earlier years.

Karen Kerrigan, president of the SBE Council, an advocacy group for small businesses, urges Obama and lawmakers to remember that small businesses have created millions of jobs in recent years.

"Small businesses make the economy hum," Kerrigan says.

"We hope that any tax increases do not work against getting our economy going again."

Many small companies face tougher bank lending standards, weaker sales and rising job losses.

More than 115,000 of the 157,000 jobs cut in October were from small and midsize businesses, ADP Employer Services said Wednesday.

Small businesses also hope that Obama and Congress will push banks and the U.S. Small Business Administration to free up more financing.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, is urging the SBA to use billions of dollars in emergency disaster loans for small businesses.

Meanwhile, banks and other lenders are lobbying the SBA to adopt policies to create more liquidity, says Tony Wilkinson, president of the National Association of Government Guaranteed Lenders.

For one, the SBA could allow lenders to price their loans lower by using the Libor index rate, rather than the SBA-established "Peg Rate" or The Wall Street Journal prime rate.

In a worst case, more lenders will close, and lending will continue to decline. "We can't wait six months," Wilkinson says.