Small But Mighty: On health care and taxes

Dan Danner, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, with former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, taking on regulations that they say hamper the ability of small businesses to expand. WILLIAM B. PLOWMAN / AP / NFIB
Dan Danner, president of the National Federation of Independent Business, with former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, taking on regulations that they say hamper the ability of small businesses to expand. WILLIAM B. PLOWMAN / AP / NFIB
Posted: May 01, 2012

Dan Danner never expected to end up in the middle of the health-care debate. Or, for that matter, in politics.

As president of the National Federation of Independent Business, the biggest advocacy group representing small-business owners in the United States, Danner helped oversee the organization’s attempt to overturn the health-care overhaul. Last month, the NFIB’s lawyers were among those arguing against the law before the Supreme Court.

The group, which has lobbied for small businesses since its founding in 1943, contended that the law would drive up their health-insurance costs and argued that a provision requiring individuals to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional. Both sides in the debate are waiting to see whether the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate or the entire law — or allows the law as a whole to stand.

Danner is on the forefront of other issues that affect the NFIB’s 350,000 members, many of whom have companies with just a handful of employees. He leads the organization’s lobbying on concerns such as taxes and regulation. The group is among many calling for lower tax rates for small-business owners whose companies are sole proprietorships, partnerships, and what are called “S” corporations. The profits from these companies aren’t taxed — they’re “passed through” to their owners, who are then taxed as individuals. Often, their tax rates are higher than those for such companies as General Motors Corp. and Apple Inc.

Many tax rates, including individual rates, are scheduled to go up at the end of the year, unless Congress acts before then. Individuals could pay as much as 39.5 percent.

Danner joined the NFIB in 1993, after lobbying for steelmaker Armco Inc. and holding positions in the Department of Commerce and the Reagan White House. He spoke with the Associated Press about the NFIB’s agenda. Here are some excerpts:

Question: What do you expect to happen after the Supreme Court rules on health care?

Answer: It’s easier if the whole law falls because then, essentially, you have a clean slate and we’re back in overall health-care reform, ground zero, to start over. We intend to be very involved in this debate as we have been for a couple of decades. If just the individual mandate falls, I think it’s a little more up in the air.

Q: Let’s say the entire law is struck down. One idea that the NFIB has supported to help lower health-care costs would allow small businesses to band together to form groups to buy insurance more cheaply. Do you still support that?

A: [Yes], across state lines or on a national basis. Right now, large companies have the ability to offer one insurance product in multiple states. They have protection under ERISA [the Employee Retirement Income Security Act] and the Labor Department, and they’re not subject to the individual laws in each state. If you’re GM and you have plants in 25 states, you can offer one set of products in all 25 that meets the best needs of your employees. In our similar approach that we’ve tried to get for several decades, bunches of small businesses would be able to purchase health care like General Electric or GM and offer one set of products in multiple states and have the same purchasing power and clout when they negotiate with insurance companies.

Q: What’s your sense of the climate for small-business lending? Is it easier for small companies to borrow than it was a year ago or two years ago?

A: By and large, it’s not particularly easier, but for our members, it’s not a problem for a great deal of them. Most of them right now don’t want a loan. They don’t want to expand, they don’t want to grow. They’re sitting on the sidelines, hoping for a little more certainty going forward.

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