As a small-business owner, I’m glad the debate in Washington has finally turned to creating jobs and helping small businesses. But it’s one thing to talk about helping small businesses and it’s another thing to correctly diagnose what’s wrong and propose appropriate remedies.

Unfortunately, some in Washington would rather assign blame and offer distractions.

For example, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, claims that small businesses are faltering under “mountains of paperwork,” “excessive regulation” and an elusive “climate of uncertainty.” That’s the blame part. Her recently proposed legislation, the Regulatory Time-Out Act, would place a moratorium on new government-issued standards and safeguards. That’s the distraction part.

Speaking as a business owner, I honestly wish too much paperwork and “regulatory uncertainty” were the biggest problems facing my business. They’re not.

My biggest problem is a much more urgent one: a shortage of customers.

Other business owners I talk to, in Auburn and elsewhere, say the same thing: Rebuilding our customer base is the Number One concern.

McClatchy News Service did an informal survey of small businesses about these issues recently, and the results were striking: None of the owners they interviewed reported problems with regulations in their industry, and most supported having clear standards and safeguards in place.

As the owner of a small business, I have no problem with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau setting standards to protect our air and our pocketbooks. Who would oppose that?

It doesn’t take long to figure out who. Just follow the money.

The only source the McClatchy article quoted that was against regulations was the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Local Chambers may be made up of small businesses, but the U.S. Chamber represents Wall Street banks, billion-dollar health insurers and the country’s biggest oil, gas and coal companies. It’s these same big corporate actors who stand to benefit from rolling back standards and safeguards, all at our expense.

So I say bring on the rules.

New rules set over the last two years include much-needed consumer protections on credit cards and limits on the rapidly escalating fees (called “swipe fees”) banks charge to small businesses on debit transactions. These standards are going to put (or keep) more money in the pockets of small businesses and our customers.

New rules include a requirement that health insurers meet a basic standard of value for premiums, spending at least 80 percent of our premium dollars on health costs and no more than 20 percent on lobbying, advertising, executive compensation and administration. Insurers that fail this basic test will owe rebates to customers, including small business rebates estimated at $300 million in 2011.

And new rules that include manufacturing and production standards that clarify labeling of “organic” and “fair trade” products, benefit small businesses that strive to produce quality products and promote quality of life for consumers and producers.

In short, rules and standards are what create a level playing field for small businesses to have a fighting chance.

Collins’ “timeout” would actually regulate new rules, making them harder to pass, but would do nothing to put more money in the hands of our customers. Instead, freezing rules would leave small businesses at the mercy of big insurers, big banks, and big polluters. That won’t help us create jobs. The new rules that make up the Regulatory Time-Out Act are the rules we can do without.

— Special to the Telegram


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