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Small-business owners have taken up arms on both sides of the spin wars between President Barack Obama and House Republicans over the fiscal cliff, spotlighting a growing rift within K Street’s small-business lobby.
Long dominated by GOP-friendly trade associations such as the National Federation of Independent Business, the small-business advocacy community is increasingly making room for upstart liberal groups. These include the American Sustainable Business Council, which boasted that four of its members attended last week’s exclusive White House briefing for 15 small-business leaders.
“For once, we finally have a forum,” said ASBC co-founder and CEO David Levine, who added that his group was founded in part as a counter-weight to the NFIB and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Such groups “were not representing the voices of large numbers of businesses,” he said.
The ASBC promotes environmental protection and social equity, among other issues, and purports to represent 150,000 businesses through a network of 50 trade groups. Unlike the NFIB, the chamber, and a host of better-established K Street trade groups, the ASBC supports letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for those with annual incomes of more than $250,000.
“The members in our network have been pretty clear that what would help them is if consumers had more money in their pockets, and if we had more money to spend on infrastructure and health care,” said Kevin Simowitz, director of the Maine Small Business Coalition — an affiliate of the Main Street Alliance, another small-business group that has worked alongside the ASBC on the fiscal cliff and other issues.
Officials at the NFIB, which pegs its membership at about 350,000, have complained about their exclusion from White House meetings. Some acknowledge that Obama’s cold shoulder comes as no surprise: Not only does the NFIB spend millions backing mostly Republicans on the campaign trail; the group was a lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case challenging Obama’s health care law.
“As a business person, you want to hear dissenting opinions,” said NFIB member Kevin Maloney, president of Northeast Express Transport, a Windsor Locks, Conn., transportation service with about a dozen employees. “If all you’re hearing is your own opinion fed back to you, you’re never going to hear what you should hear. So for the president to invite only the small-business organizations that support his position is short-sighted and doesn’t serve the country well.”
But the NFIB and its allies may soon get their own hearing, thanks to their GOP friends on Capitol Hill. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., will meet with a group of small-business leaders in his office Wednesday. NFIB officials may also soon bring a small-business contingent to Capitol Hill.