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Finding Common Ground for the Small-Business Community | Commentary

The midterm elections mean a Republican majority with a vastly different congressional agenda. As many anticipate this new set of legislative priorities, there’s much discussion around the potential for a “grand bargain.” Polls have consistently shown Republican and Democratic voters overwhelmingly united on one key issue — growing America’s economy.

There is no greater economic engine for our economy and job growth than the mom-and-pop businesses lining America’s Main Streets. From plumbers to consultants, the small-business community represents the heart of the middle class — and a prime area where Congress and the White House can work together to find common ground.

The issues the new Congress can address are vast when it comes to America’s small-business community. At every turn, roadblocks remain, hindering the growth and expansion of small business from blue states to crimson congressional districts across the country. If Congress and the administration want to come together and tackle the biggest issues facing the economic engine of America, here are three areas where they should start:

Providing Access to Affordable

Health Care

Despite the challenges of the Affordable Care Act, the new health care system is the law of the land. Unfortunately, premiums for health care coverage have not been reduced to affordable levels for many small businesses, some of which have elected to take the penalty for not enrolling. In order to provide affordable health care for all small businesses, Congress should adopt a new, less-expensive tier of coverage — the copper plan — that would require plans to cover 50 percent of medical costs, 18 percent less than currently available bronze plans.

It is estimated with the copper plan that an additional “350,000 Americans could keep their employer sponsored insurance in 2016, and because fewer people would access exchange subsidies, taxpayers would spend $5.8 billion less, while employers and individuals would pay $5.5 billion less in penalties.”

Expanding the Flexibility of Effective Health Care Tools

Further reducing options for small businesses, the ACA has changed the use of Health Reimbursement Accounts. A powerful and effective tool for small businesses, HRAs have long offered the small employers a way to offer financial assistance for medical costs — such as co-pays, prescriptions and deductibles — of their employers, even if they are unable to over a group plan. But the administration as issued technical guidance that employers who meet the ACA’s “Essential Health Benefits” can continue to offer HRAs, eliminating it for employers under 50 who are not compliant.

HRAs are clearly not a qualified health care plan, but rather an option for employers to help support their employees by offering financial assistance for health care. This new rule has had a major impact on many in the small-business community who are unable to offer this assistance. By clarifying these rules — through bipartisan legislative action — Congress and the administration has the opportunity to expand the applicability of HRAs as a means of providing financial relief to employees, as it relates to out-of-pocket health care expenses.

Fair and Simple Tax Reform

One of the often-discussed priorities of the new majority is reforming our nation’s tax code. Unfortunately, much of the discussion about tax reform usually centers on corporate tax reform. But in order for our economy to strengthen and benefit the full workforce — small and large businesses alike — our nation must move forward with a comprehensive approach to tax reform that makes our code fair and simpler, and includes individual tax reforms. These individual changes are small tweaks that can be included in any large, comprehensive package and are fertile ground for bipartisan cooperation on any reform package:

Amending the definition of “employee” to include an owner of a sole proprietorship to take advantage of additional benefits;

Simplifying the definition of a independent contractor to clarify a workers’ status;

Streamlining the deduction process, such as creating a standard schedule C-Z by expanding as many deductions as possible for business expenses.

Our message to Congress: Listen to all of the American people by supporting policies that help grow our economy and create jobs. If Democrats and Republicans want to come together to move our country forward, they can start finding common ground by advancing the priorities of America’s smallest business community.

Katie Vlietstra is vice president for government relations and public affairs for the National Association for the Self-Employed.

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