The new chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship has big issues on his agenda, but he'll have to fit them in with a high-profile gubernatorial campaign.
David Vitter, who became chairman last month when the Republican Party took control of the Senate, is the front-runner in this year's race for Louisiana governor. His strategy? Work on small business issues when he's in Washington, and focus on Louisiana during weekends and congressional recesses. He's not worried. It's a routine he says he's followed for years.
"It's just not that big a change in my mind," Vitter says.
Vitter's candidacy may put a spotlight on small business, says Todd McCracken, president of the advocacy group National Small Business Association. But running a campaign for such a high office is bound to take some time and attention from his committee work, he says.
"Anyone running for governor has to spend a fair amount of time back in the state," McCracken says.
Government regulations, a target of many Republican lawmakers, are one of Vitter's priorities because of the burden he says they place on small business.
He's planning to introduce the Senate version of the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act the House approved last week. It aims to increase scrutiny on the impact of current and proposed regulations on small businesses.
"In a lot of cases, the smaller you are, the more crushing (regulations) are," he says.
The health care law's requirement that many businesses offer health insurance to employees and their dependents is among Vitter's concerns. He also wants lower taxes for all small businesses. He opposes cutting the corporate tax rate without giving similar relief to business owners like sole proprietors who report business income on their 1040 returns. His suggestion: Tax those owners' business earnings at a lower rate than their income from other sources.
Because oil and gas companies make up one of Louisiana's biggest industries, Vitter may focus on issues that affect small energy companies, says Karen Kerrigan, president of the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. He could have more success in getting passage for legislation affecting those businesses than former committee chairwoman Mary Landrieu, D-La., because he has the advantage of a GOP majority in both houses of Congress, Kerrigan says.
Vitter says the committee can get a lot done even with the deep political divide in Congress.
"The small business committee has a history and tradition of being less partisan or less ideological than many other committees," he says. "There are lots of small business issues that we can unite around."
Vitter was an attorney involved in business litigation in Louisiana before serving in the state Legislature from 1991-99. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 to 2005, and has been in the Senate since then. He has been a member of the business committee for his entire time as a senator.
He has sponsored small business legislation including bills to limit the government's powers under the Clean Water Act, and to exempt small companies from some fines related to filing paperwork with the government.
Companies in Louisiana have helped Vitter become familiar with the problems many small businesses face, he says.
"A lot of our traditional business in Louisiana like seafood and the service industry for oil and gas are family businesses," he says, "definitely small businesses."
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