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Small Businesses Get the Spotlight in Presidential Debate

The conventional wisdom is that Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama in the first presidential debate, but there was another winner in terms of attention Wednesday night: America's small businesses.

"Small business," a term that describes most Microsoft partner companies and many of their customers, appeared 27 times in this transcript of the debate and featured prominently in both candidates' opening statements.

Obama, who went first, said, "I think it's important...that we change our tax code to make sure that we're helping small businesses." In his turn, Romney named "champion small business" as the fifth element of a five-part economic plan. The Republican nominee elaborated, "It's small business that creates the jobs in America. And over the last four years small-business people have decided that America may not be the place to open a new business, because new business startups are down to a 30-year low. I know what it takes to get small business growing again, to hire people."

Amid their general agreement that small businesses are an important engine of economic growth, the candidates drew clear distinctions between themselves.

Pointing to his administration's record, Obama said, "I also lowered taxes for small businesses 18 times." (The claim was unpacked earlier this week in The New York Times, which reported that the number includes expired provisions and incentives that require businesses to spend money on specific things like health care or equipment.) While Obama said he wanted to continue existing tax rates, he acknowledged that his regular campaign pledge to raise taxes on incomes above $250,000 would affect 3 percent of small businesses.

"Under my plan, 97 percent of small businesses would not see their income taxes go up," the president and Democratic nominee said.

That was the dividing line with Romney, who argued that the top 3 percent of small businesses were extremely important.

"Those businesses that are in the last 3 percent of businesses happen to employ half -- half -- of all of the people who work in small business. Those are the businesses that employ one-quarter of all the workers in America. And your plan is take their tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent," Romney said.

Romney cited a statistic from the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business advocacy group, that the tax hike would cost 700,000 jobs. (Romney is apparently referring to a report prepared by Ernst & Young on behalf of NFIB and other organizations. It says the job losses occur over an unspecified "long-term" and the analysis also takes into account other possible changes to the tax code.) "I don't want to kill jobs in this environment," Romney said.

Instead, the former Massachusetts governor said he wants to bring down rates across the board, while lowering deductions, exemptions and credits.

"The reason is because small business pays that individual rate," Romney said. "If we lower that rate, they will be able to hire more people. For me, this is about jobs."

The term "small business" got pulled into several other parts of the debate, with the candidates sparring over the effect of health care cost increases on small-business hiring, the cost to small businesses of Obama's Affordable Care Act, the fairness of billion-dollar tax breaks for bigger businesses and whether or not some of Donald Trump's many businesses would qualify as "small."

Posted by Scott Bekker on October 05, 2012 at 11:58 AM


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