This Op Ed was published by Politico and can be viewed online here.
The Obama administration’s tough statements about Wall Street misdeeds mask a strange fact: For an administration that talks so much about helping the little guy, it is astonishing how many of President Barack Obama’s “reforms” work to the advantage of powerful corporate interests at the expense of small employers and independent entrepreneurs.
Two recent examples are the new burdens that Obamacare places on small business and the way the administration’s proposed financial reform legislation works to the advantage of the largest financial institutions at the expense of smaller competitors.
The health care bill Obama just signed included a new tax of $8 billion a year on health insurers, beginning in 2014. This rises to $14.3 billion by 2018. The consensus among economists is that this tax would largely be passed on to consumers as higher premiums — roughly $1,000 more per family per year, according to some analysts.
But a disproportionate burden of this new tax will be borne by small businesses and their employees. The tax hits a specific category of health insurance known as a “fully insured” plan — the only kind most small businesses can afford.
Only 14 percent of workers in companies with 5,000 or more employees are in fully insured plans, according to a recent analysis by the Joint Economic Committee. Conversely, 88 percent of workers in businesses with three to 199 employees are in fully insured plans — and are thus subject to the tax.
Most debate on this health care provision was about how costly it would be for employers. It is costly, but the financial burden is heaviest on workers in small businesses. Many of these workers are at the lower end of the wage scale. So much for helping the little guy.
With regard to the financial reform legislation, the focus has been on whether or not it enshrines the principle of further bailouts for Wall Street. The answer to that question is an emphatic “yes.”
Sen. Chris Dodd’s financial reform legislation would expand the Federal Reserve’s lending authority; would give the administration authority to initiate another Troubled Asset Relief Program-style bailout without having to consult Congress and would leave taxpayers holding the bag.
But the legislation also provides a significant competitive advantage to the largest financial institutions-.
A new $50 billion fund would be underwritten by the largest financial institutions to pay for the cost of winding down these very institutions in the event of a crisis. Far from imposing a significant new cost on big financial institutions, the fund would give them a significant competitive advantage. Potential investors can rest assured that a taxpayer-funded bailout will be provided to these firms because of their size and potential to disrupt the overall economy should they fail.
Smaller financial firms cannot compete against this implicit promise of a guaranteed bailout.
Once again, so much for helping the little guy.
All this is remarkable, considering that our economic recovery depends on small businesses creating jobs. Small businesses have always been — and continue to be — the engine of the U.S. economy.
Even today, in our age of globalization and multinational corporations, small businesses make up more than 93 percent of all business in the United States, employ more than half of U.S. workers and are responsible for 63 percent of all new jobs.
In economic downturns, small businesses are even more important. During the current and most recent recessions, small businesses have been responsible for three out of every four new jobs created.
Do we really want to place extra burdens on small entrepreneurs by making it more costly for them to compete and hire new employees? At such a crucial time in our economic recovery — when economists and policymakers alike consider job creation the top priority — why would we penalize the small-business operators? These are the risk takers most likely to pull us out of the economic doldrums.
In politics, rhetoric and reality don’t always match up. But on this issue, it’s time for the administration to come clean.
If it is going to stack the deck in favor of big corporate interests, it shouldn’t be able to get away with posing as the champion of the little guy.