Dem candidates share ideas about small-business issues: Full Responses

The following are the responses by seven of the leading Democratic candidates to eight questions posed by New Hampshire Business Review relating to business-related issues. All candidates were given a 150-word-per-answer limit. Responses were edited down to that length if they exceeded it. Of the candidates responding, only Congressman Dennis Kucinich did not participate, despite repeated requests.

Health Care

Q: What would you do to relieve the health-care insurance burden on business?

NEW MEXICO GOV. BILL RICHARDSON: Business and government must partner to share the burden of insuring all Americans. Americans deserve no less. My plan includes the following solutions to achieve universal health coverage:
Working families and small businesses will be able to purchase coverage through the same plan that members of Congress and the president have.

Americans 55 to 64 will be able to purchase coverage through Medicare.

Lower-income Americans will have a choice to obtain coverage through expanded Medicaid and SCHIP programs.

Veterans will get access to the high-quality care they deserve, when and where they need it, without bureaucratic hassles.

My plan also require insurers to provide coverage to all Americans, regardless of pre-existing conditions, as well as requiring all health plans to cover a standard package of proven preventive services like cancer screenings and immunizations. Finally, mental health parity would be included in all health care plans.

FORMER NORTH CAROLINA SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: My plan eliminates over $130 billion a year in wasteful medical spending, reducing the cost of a typical family policy by $2,000 – $2,500 a year. Businesses will cover employees or help pay their premiums. This will level the playing field. The government will make insurance affordable through tax credits and by promoting cost-effectiveness. New “Health Care Markets” will give families and businesses a choice of plans, including one public plan. After these steps, all Americans will be required to get insurance. Universal coverage will lower employers’ premiums. Health Care Markets will also minimize administrative burdens for participating by assuming the administrative role of negotiating benefit plans with insurers and collecting premiums. Businesses that opt into the markets will only have to make financial contributions for the cost of covering their employees through markets.

Finally, I will fight insurance and drug companies whose excessive profits make the system needlessly expensive.

FORMER ALASKA SEN. MIKE GRAVEL: Senator Gravel believes that business should not bear the burden of providing health care to its employees. The senator’s health care plan, called the Health Security System, provides universal health care (i.e. health care to everyone) with coverage that exceeds anything currently available. Each citizen will be given a certificate annually with which to use to purchase any one of six health care plans. The government will finance the plan from revenues received from what we call “The Fair Green Tax,” a sales tax on consumption, that will replace the federal income tax, eliminating the tax code and the IRS.

CONNECTICUT SEN. CHRIS DODD: As president I will create a universal health care system by the end of my first term. My system will provide universal, affordable coverage to every American regardless of job status, ability to pay or previous medical conditions. Based on and parallel to the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP), Universal HealthMart will provide a number of plans to choose from.

Under the Dodd Plan, no individual or employer will be forced to join and individuals and businesses will contribute based on their ability to pay. In addition to realizing the benefits of reduced premiums brought on by the bargaining power of Universal HealthMart, employers who participate in the plan will no longer be required to negotiate insurance premiums or shoulder the costly task of administering health plans. Better and guaranteed coverage of employees will result in better health, less absenteeism, and higher productivity.

ILLINOIS SEN. BARACK OBAMA: I will allow people who do not have access to group coverage to buy into a national pool, which will offer a new public plan similar to the one I have as a member of Congress, and private plans that offer comprehensive benefits and meet quality standards. Federal subsidies will be made available. My health plan will save the typical American family up to $2,500 per year, and it will save employers $140 billion per year.

My plan includes a reinsurance pool for employers. If employer health care costs exceed a certain amount, the federal government will pick up the tab, as long as the employer agrees to pass the savings onto their employees.

My plan makes a real investment in health IT and other health system changes, will aggressively hold the insurance and pharmaceutical industries accountable for unfair practices, and invest in prevention and public health systems.

DELAWARE SEN. JOE BIDEN: We’ve all heard the stories. A small company with 30 employees has one employee whose child is tragically injured in an accident resulting in a spinal cord injury and premiums for every employee go up 63 percent. But by stepping in and helping to cover catastrophic care, we can stop out of control premiums from going up.

That’s why the cornerstone of my proposal is catastrophic coverage. The federal government will help pay the medical costs for catastrophic care exceeding $50,000 – the most expensive cases.

In addition, I would:

• Improve, modernize and simplify health care by focusing on preventive care, chronic disease management and transitioning to electronic records and moving to a simple, universal claim form

• Provide affordable coverage by letting people buy-in to the same plans offered to members of Congress and allowing people 55-64 to buy-in to Medicare

• Insure every child by expanding SCHIP.

NEW YORK SEN. HILLARY CLINTON: A key component of my American Health Choices Plan is to lower costs throughout the health care system, making quality coverage affordable to everyone. My plan would lower costs by modernizing the system, using more computer technology, focusing on preventive care, coordinating and streamlining care for chronically ill patients, and getting rid of the hidden cost of providing care to the uninsured. My plan also pays extra attention to small businesses, which help drive the American economy and, since 1990, have created 80 percent of the country’s net new jobs. I know that small businesses tend to pay higher premiums because their purchasing power is limited. To address this problem, my plan will offer a tax credit for small businesses that provide quality health care to their workers. I want to make it easier – not harder – for small businesses to create new jobs with health care coverage for our workers.

Foreign workers

Q: Many New Hampshire employers are dependent on foreign workers, but others say they take jobs from U.S. citizens. What do you propose to do with the immigrant visa programs specifically and immigration in general?

EDWARDS: Guest workers may be necessary where there are worker shortages, but I will eliminate abuses of the H-1B and L-1 guest worker programs by strengthening labor law enforcement and requiring employers to demonstrate that they could not recruit American workers and that they pay the prevailing wage.

Our immigration system needs an overhaul. The first step is to control our borders and stop illegal trafficking. We need to increase the number of border patrol agents and invest in surveillance technology.

It is unrealistic to think that we can deport over 12 million people. We should give the people here the opportunity to earn American citizenship after paying a fine and learning to speak English.

I oppose proposed guest worker programs that fail to include a real path to citizenship. America is a land of equals, not a land of first-class citizens and second-class laborers.

GRAVEL: Senator Gravel favors protecting our borders and monitoring the flow of immigrants into our country. He also favors a guest worker program and setting up naturalization procedures that would fairly bring immigrants into legal status Any discussion of immigration must include NAFTA and the concept of “free trade.” The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a failure for the working classes of both the United States and Mexico and a boon to international corporate interests. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that over 1 million U.S. jobs were lost as a result of NAFTA. This has led to a wave of immigrants looking for work in the United States. Reforming unfair trade policies spawned by measures like NAFTA will stimulate job growth on both sides of the border. All undocumented workers in the United States should be put on the path toward legal status.

DODD: I strongly believe in the pressing need for comprehensive immigration reform that is tough, fair and practical. While we welcome to our country foreign workers who possess special skills and special motivation, we welcome them here to work with Americans, not instead of Americans.

I continue to express reservations about expanding the guest worker program. It is important that we close loopholes that allow American companies to hire lower-paid, high-tech workers from abroad. In order for America to be a land of opportunity for all, we must, first and foremost, make sure that opportunity exists for Americans.

OBAMA: I will not stop pushing Congress to pass comprehensive reform this year.

In the most recent immigration debate on the U.S. Senate floor, I fought to improve and pass amendments to put greater emphasis on keeping immigrant families together and to revisit a controversial new points system. On security, comprehensive reform has to mean gaining operational control of our borders by using better technology, improving infrastructure, and making smart choices about where we deploy resources on the Southern and Northern borders.

And at the workplace, we need a simple, but mandatory electronic system that enables employers to verify the legal status of the people they hire.

We also need to bring the 12 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. We need to give this population a chance to pay a fine, to have provisional status in the country, and to get into the back of the line for citizenship.

BIDEN: The foundation of our immigration policy should be security and American values.

This debate has turned into a race to the bottom. It has become about ways to keep Spanish-speaking people out of this country when in fact the majority of the undocumented people in this country are from all backgrounds — 40 percent are here because they overstayed tourist visas.

Our visa system shouldn’t be based on arbitrary numbers but on the real needs of employers. And we must bring the 12 million undocumented people out of the shadows by providing a path to legalization.

CLINTON: As president, I will work to pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes five key elements. It must toughen security at our borders, by placing more people and technology there, and it must crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. We must also work with local communities to deal with the consequences of a broken immigration system – I don’t think that people from, for example, New Hampshire should have to pay the costs of a federal problem. I am also going to try to figure out if I can help our neighbors to the south provide economic opportunities for their own people. And I will make sure that my policy provides a path to earned citizenship for people here trying to make a living. I think we should bring them out of the shadows – give them some sanctions, penalties, fines – because we need to know who is in our country.

RICHARDSON: We must establish a realistic path to legalization for those who are already here. This is not amnesty, but an effort that draws out those already here by offering legal status in exchange for good behavior, learning English, payment of back taxes, and fines for illegal entry. Applicants would also pay an application fee and undergo a medical examination and background check. Those who break the law will be immediately and permanently deported. The number of guest workers allowed at any one time must be based upon the needs of the U.S. economy. The goal must be to meet demand for jobs that go unfilled by American citizens, and no more.

Sub-prime mortgages

Q: What would you do about bailing out investors and mortgage companies and helping those facing foreclosure? How do you feel about regulating such lending to prevent similar situations in the future?

DODD: As president, I will increase opportunities for homeownership by stabilizing the mortgage and financial markets, protect homeowners from unscrupulous lenders and provide assistance to victims of predatory loans so they can keep their homes. As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, I have been a leader in addressing the subprime mortgage crisis that is threatening millions of homeowners. I have used my Chairmanship to press regulators to act and recently secured Senate passage of $100 million in funds for foreclosure prevention efforts. As president, I will expand these efforts and at the same time increase the nation’s stock of affordable housing.

OBAMA: I will create a fund to help people refinance their mortgages. The fund will also assist individuals who purchased homes too expensive for their income by helping to sell their homes. The fund will help low-income borrowers get additional time and pay back losses and waive income taxes that result from an individual selling their home to avoid foreclosure.

I will also reform existing bankruptcy law, which currently forces individuals who seek bankruptcy protection to continue paying the full amount of their existing mortgage plans.

My STOP FRAUD Act provides the first federal definition of mortgage fraud, increases funding for law enforcement programs, creates new criminal penalties for mortgage professionals fraud, and requires industry insiders to report suspicious activity. I have also proposed to create a Homeowner Obligation Made Explicit (HOME) score to provide potential borrowers with a simplified, standardized borrower metric (similar to APR) for home mortgages.

GRAVEL: Senator Gravel would not bail out investors but would arrange for help to those who are facing foreclosure by extending the loans and adjusting the payment schedule. The senator would also look at predatory lending practices to avert future scandals.

BIDEN: Our top priority should be keeping families in their homes. We need to make sure that the mortgage companies are trying to renegotiate these loans.

We should:

• Crack down on predatory lenders and unscrupulous brokers.

• Urge lenders to renegotiate terms of loans to keep people in their homes.

• Allow bankruptcy courts to modify mortgages by making changes in repayment timeframes and interest rates to keep people in their homes.

• Eliminate abusive practices like prepayment penalties and require taxes and insurance to be included in assessment so that people buying a home know what the all the costs will be.

• Strengthen the Federal Housing Administration’s ability to counsel families facing foreclosure and help them refinance with federally backed loans.

• Expand the ability of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase loans and stabilize the mortgage market.

• Ensure that rating agencies are doing their jobs.

CLINTON: I have introduced legislation to help families keep their homes, ensure that the abuses of recent years do not recur, and punish scam artists who prey on at-risk homeowners. I have introduced the American Home Ownership Protection Act. Specifically, it would require full disclosure of mortgage broker compensation, require federal registration for mortgage brokers that would be available to borrowers, and eliminate abusive prepayment penalties on all mortgages. The legislation would also establish a $1 billion fund to assist state programs that help at-risk borrowers avoid foreclosure; expand Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s foreclosure prevention efforts; establish a $1 billion fund to support state, county, and local housing trust funds in order to expand affordable housing; and increase mortgage fraud investigation and prosecution efforts. I have also announced a plan to use the state housing finance agencies to help people replace unworkable mortgages with more stable and affordable ones.

RICHARDSON: The credit crisis is the Katrina of the financial markets. Millions of Americans are faced with sinking home values. Hundreds of thousands face the threat of foreclosure. This represents a real threat to our people and our economy.

The Federal Reserve is doing the right thing by loosening interest rates, while maintaining its vigilance against inflation. Next, we must strengthen the Federal Housing Authority to save countless Americans from losing their homes in the months to come.

Once we have resolved this crisis, we must prevent it from happening again. For too long, the mortgage industry and the analysts who rate their credit-worthiness have been too close to each other; there have been too many sweetheart deals, too little transparency. We must reform the credit-rating industry with tough new laws that create a firewall between analyst and investor. We must prevent these obvious and destructive conflicts of interest.

EDWARDS: I will pass a national law to prohibit the worst abuses in the mortgage market. The law will reach non-bank lenders and mortgage brokers and strengthen underwriting standards to ensure that borrowers receive affordable loans suited to their means. I will also create a new federal regulatory agency whose only job is to protect consumers from abusive financial services products.

To help the estimated 2.2 million families facing foreclosure, I will create a Home Rescue Fund to help families get more affordable mortgages and let bankruptcy judges modify mortgages, as they can other debts, to help families keep their homes. The Fund would work through non-profits, government agencies and community financial institutions.

Tax code

Q: What changes would you make that would directly affect business?

GRAVEL: Senator Gravel will eliminate the federal income tax, the IRS and the tax code replacing it with a progressive tax on consumption, the Fair Green Tax, that will tax only on new goods and services. In addition, every American will receive a monthly rebate of all taxes on the necessities of life, a reimbursement of taxes paid for food, lodging, transportation, clothing etc. This would provide a significant amount of money to hard working families and a cash flow for the poor. Having no exceptions, wealth will be denied the opportunity to “game” the system and escape paying a fair share.

DODD: Tax and budget policy should embrace four core principles. Responsibility – because no government or business can sustain itself if what it spends consistently surpasses what it takes in. Fairness – any society that expects to leave subsequent generations a future of opportunity and prosperity must commit itself to creating a vibrant middle class so that every family has the opportunity move up. Growth – so that America can continue to lead the world in innovation, job creation, and economic security. And pragmatism – because leading sometimes means being willing to think beyond your own ideology. As president, I will support tax policies that stimulate growth including tax cuts for job-creating businesses such as the permanent extension of the Research and Development tax credit.

OBAMA: I will level the playing field for all businesses by eliminating special interest loopholes and deductions, such as those for the oil and gas industry, as well as by limiting the ability of multi-national corporations to use tax havens to hide income overseas.

I will also eliminate the capital gains taxation of start-up businesses to encourage innovation and job creation. I will also assist self-employed small business owners by creating a “Making Work Pay” tax credit, a $500 per worker credit to offset the payroll tax. This measure will provide relief to self-employed small business owners who struggle to pay both the employee and employer portion of the payroll tax. Furthermore, I will make the Research and Development tax credit permanent so that firms can rely on it when making decisions to invest in domestic R&D. These provisions will ensure that the corporate tax promotes continued economic growth and innovation.

BIDEN: We can’t make the investments we need to make in alternative energy, addressing climate change, improving education and providing health care and continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. I would protect tax relief for the middle class. But I would roll back President Bush’s tax cuts for those in the top 1 percent income bracket in America – those making over $435,000 a year. As president, I won’t spend $1 trillion dollars to repeal the estate tax for millionaire heirs like Paris Hilton. Instead, I would exempt estates up to $7 million dollars and leave the tax in place for the remaining 7,000 or so estates that would have to pay it. I believe these are reasonable trade offs for substantial investments in priorities – like health care and energy efficiency – which will save businesses money in the long term.

CLINTON: In the Senate, I have voted numerous times to support small businesses through tax cuts and incentives, including the Rural Investment to Strengthen our Economy Act. When I am president, I will continue this approach. First, I will eliminate tax breaks for companies that move jobs and production overseas. Instead, I will invest those resources in making the United States more competitive by investing in universal broadband and other policies to spur innovation here at home. Second, I will lower the cost of health care for all businesses and provide small firms an additional tax credit to cover their employees. Third, I have a plan to make college and life-long training more affordable to Americans, which will help create a skilled workforce that will benefit small-business owners. The plan will provide a $3,500 college tax credit, strengthen community colleges, and provide federal support for on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs.

RICHARDSON: I have called for a series of tax credits that will incentivize economic growth and job creation. They include:

• Creating a federal Angel Investor Tax Cut that offers incentives for ‘Angel Investors’ to invest in the high-tech jobs of the future.

• Making permanent and doubling the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit so that companies will invest in new technologies.

• Offer a tax credit for companies that create jobs paying above the prevailing wage, just as I did in New Mexico.

• Provide stronger tax incentives to promote Green Jobs in renewable energy, such as retrofitting homes to be energy efficient.

• Create a Rural Jobs Tax Credit for employers who create jobs in non-metro areas.

• Offer a Manufacturing Jobs Tax Credit for employers who create good jobs in the manufacturing sector.

• Create a rebate for businesses that hire disadvantaged youth in high school and college.

EDWARDS: I will repeal the unfair Bush tax cuts for families making more than $200,000 a year, while making them permanent for working families.

I will bring down the deficit by collecting unpaid taxes and cutting excessive spending, like student loan subsidies, Medicare prescription drug costs, and unnecessary contractors such as those at HUD.

I will eliminate estate taxes for the middle class, small-business owners and family farmers, while keeping these taxes on the few families with large estates.

I will also help families with a new Get Ahead Credit. This credit will match savings up to $500 a year, providing as much as an additional dollar for every dollar of savings. The credit will be refundable to low-income families and be phased out with up to $75,000. The savings, match and investment earnings could be used for retirement, a college education, a home down payment or a small business.


Q: What specific changes in federal policy – such as minimum wage or union recognition – would you favor or oppose?

OBAMA: I am a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act to assure that workers have a free choice about whether they will join a union. I have fought to defend the Davis-Bacon Act. I will also fight to strengthen whistleblower protections and increase funding for the OSHA to provide for more inspections and grants for safety and health training programs serving small employers and employees in jobs like construction. I have also introduced legislation to close the loophole in current tax law that encourages some employers to classify their employees as independent contractors. I also oppose so-called “comp time” proposals that would deprive workers of their hard-earned overtime pay.

I am a supporter of increasing the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). I will further raise the minimum wage, index it to inflation and increase the EITC to make sure that workers can earn a living wage.

GRAVEL: Senator Gravel is not just for a “minimum” wage but a living wage. The senator also strongly supports union recognition and protection of that recognition as long as the processes for electing union leadership is fair and democratic and all elections enjoy all of the features of a democratic election.

BIDEN: I have supported raising the minimum wage and I will continue to support incremental increases in the minimum wage to ensure that, in this country, work is compensated fairly. I also support the Employee Free Choice Act, and I would protect Social Security, not privatize it. I oppose new trade agreements that do not include enforceable labor and environmental standards. The role of the government should be creating jobs, not exporting them.

CLINTON: As president, I will support hard-working Americans and strengthen our country’s middle class. I helped pass legislation to increase the federal minimum wage to $5.85 an hour today, and, as president, I will work to ensure that the minimum wage keeps pace with inflation. I also support expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is one of our nation’s most effective tools to encourage work and reduce poverty. I also believe that we need to extend tax cuts for middle-class families and reform the alternative minimum tax to ensure that those same middle-class Americans are not hit by a stealth tax. And I believe that we need to support our labor unions so that our workers can organize and bargain collectively for a better way of life, higher wages, quality health care, and a secure retirement. I am committed to strengthening unions as a way to strengthening the middle class.

RICHARDSON: The United States must restore its commitment to its labor force, and so our next president must also embrace the Employee Free Choice Act. Organized labor created the middle class and the next president must work very hard to reverse the damage done to workers by the Bush Administration: record debt, stagnant wages, shrinking benefits, rising costs, and historically low job creation numbers.

I will strengthen the right to collective bargaining. I have delivered for workers in my state. We set up card checks in New Mexico. If an employer then fails to bargain in good faith, there should be mediation and arbitration for their contract, as is the case in New Mexico. And there should be stronger penalties for employer violations while workers are attempting to form a union.

EDWARDS: To create One America where everyone’s hard work is rewarded and families can build a better life, we need to raise the minimum wage, strengthen workers’ right to organize, help low-income families find work, and fight abusive debt practices.

I will set a national goal of a minimum wage that equals half the average wage. I will raise the minimum wage by 75 cents a year until it reaches $9.50 in 2012. Our economy works best when regular families are sharing in its prosperity. Raising the minimum wage gives millions of workers more buying power and allows them to support their families with less government aid and contribute to the economy. Studies have shown no negative employment effects from recent minimum wage increases, and higher wages can lead to lower employee turnover and absenteeism and improved productivity.

DODD: As president I would support, advocate for, and sign it into law the Employee Free Choice Act because I believe that there is a direct connection between the decline of union membership and the growing gap between the rich and poor in this country. I have also introduced the Re-empowerment of Skilled and Professional Employees and Construction Tradeworkers (RESPECT) Act, which would amend the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to modify the definition of supervisor in order to ensure that no employee is unjustly denied his or her right to join a labor union.

I think it is disgraceful that a quarter of all jobs fail to provide enough for a family of four to live on. As president, I will immediately make a substantial increase to the minimum wage and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit so that low-income families who work hard can share in our nation’s prosperity.


Q: What policies would you implement that would directly affect business?

BIDEN: We should lead the world in green/clean energy technology. Green-collar jobs will make homes and businesses more energy efficient. I would create a 5-year, $50 billion fund to invest in new fuel and energy sources, energy efficiency, renewable energy technology, and carbon capture and sequestration technologies that will allow us to use coal cleanly. I will help businesses save money by becoming more energy efficient.

CLINTON: I believe that our nation’s dependence on foreign oil places our economy at risk, our security in jeopardy, and our planet in peril. But I also believe that we can transform the way we produce and use energy – and create millions of jobs through major investments in alternative energy. I recently outlined a comprehensive plan to address the energy and environmental challenges we face today. My plan calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050 and cutting foreign oil imports by two-thirds from projected levels by 2030. To achieve these goals, I have asked that the government, the private sector, and all Americans do their part to become more energy efficient.

RICHARDSON: All Americans must work together to create a New Economy based on renewable fuel technologies. This is essential for our environment, our health, and our national security. I have a comprehensive energy plan that breaks our nation’s addiction to oil, strengthens our national security, creates American jobs, and will the lead the world toward effective climate protection. The plan will lower demand for oil by 50 percent. That would reduce our percentage of imported oil to 10 percent. Imagine how better off we’d be in so many ways. By 2040 my plan would reduce greenhouse emissions by 80 percent.

This plan will directly affect businesses – it will reduce energy costs and insecurities in the energy market, it will help businesses to be more efficient and more profitable. By working together, we can create the clean energy future that is so vital to our future success as a nation.

EDWARDS: I will set an economy-wide limit on the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, reducing emissions by 80 percent by 2050. At the same time, a cap-and-trade system will use market forces to reduce pollution in a cost-effective and flexible manner.

I will create the $13 billion-a-year New Energy Economy Fund. The fund will be financed by greenhouse gas polluters through the sale of emission permits and by ending taxpayer giveaways for big oil companies, including special tax subsidies and sweetheart terms in offshore drilling leases. The resources will double the Department of Energy’s budget for efficiency and renewable energy, accelerate new energy technologies to market and help new businesses get started, encourage consumers to buy efficient products, and provide transition assistance to workers in carbon-intensive industries.

Finally, I will meet the demand for more electricity in the next decade through efficiency, instead of producing more power.

GRAVEL: The decade of the 1970s, Mike Gravel’s service on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee throughout his Senate career placed him in a leadership role on every major piece of legislation dealing with air, water, waste and energy.

As president he will act swiftly by initiating legislation to tax carbon at the source and cap carbon emmissions. He is also committed to leading the fight against global deforestation, which today is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouse gases as well as to prevent the extinction of the shark and other species.

However, Senator Gravel understands that any legislation will have little impact if we do not work together with other global polluters. As president, Senator Gravel will see that the U.S. launches and leads a massive global scientific effort, integrating the world’s scientific and engineering community to end energy dependence on oil.

DODD: As president I will implement a Corporate Carbon Tax. The revenues of the Carbon Tax — estimated at about $50 billion annually — will be placed into a Corporate Carbon Tax Trust Fund (CCTTF) to fund fast-tracked research, development and deployment of renewable technologies such as wind, solar, ethanol and other biofuels as well as efforts to expedite the process for bringing energy efficient technologies to market. In a Dodd Administration, America will become the world supplier of renewable energy and renewable energy technology.

OBAMA: I support implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. My cap-and-trade system will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. To assist businesses and workers transition to a clean energy economy, I will invest some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances to support the development and deployment of clean energy, invest in energy efficiency improvements and address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition and helping lower-income Americans afford their energy bills by expanding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, expanding weatherization grants for low-income individuals, and establishing a dedicated fund to assist low-income Americans afford higher electricity and energy bills. My comprehensive energy plan will also partner with businesses to increase energy efficiency, invest in new technologies and worker training, and help upgrade American manufacturing centers.

Small business

Q: What would your administration do about existing loan and incentive programs, such as the Small Business Administration? What, if any, new programs are needed?

CLINTON: Since my time in Arkansas, I have worked hard to expand access to capital and credit for small businesses, and I have sought to build public-private partnerships that nurture new businesses and support entrepreneurs like innovative investment strategies and micro-enterprises. As president, I will streamline federal government processes that allow small business owners to access credit. I will ensure that the Small Business Administration is sufficiently funded to meet the needs of small businesses that need access to capital, guidance, and federal contracts. I think we should fund the SBA’s micro loan program. Job growth and creation will be a key part of my economic agenda when I am president. I want to ensure that companies have sufficient resources and incentives to start, grow, and keep their companies in the United States, so that we can compete and succeed in the global economy.

RICHARDSON: Small businesses represent the backbone of the American economy, and we must encourage their success. Loan and incentive programs are one means of doing this, and I approve of them. In addition, we need to create new and better programs for our veterans, so that when they return home from war, they have every opportunity to start their own businesses and succeed in the civilian world.

EDWARDS: Research suggests that small businesses created as many as two-thirds of America’s net new jobs since 1970. It’s small businesses, not big corporations, who sponsor Little League teams and whose advertisements pay for printing the weekly church bulletin. I will support continuing the work of the Small Business Administration to ensure that America’s small businesses are able to continue growing.

One area where the government can do more to support small businesses is rural development. Cultivating local small businesses is a promising economic development strategy for rural areas, but only 1 percent of state economic development funds support local entrepreneurs. I will create a Rural Economic Advancement Challenge (REACH) Fund to bring capital and management expertise to small town America. The REACH Fund will connect investors with rural entrepreneurs, organize businesses into networks to help them succeed together, and ensure that rural areas have access to investment capital.

GRAVEL: Senator Gravel believes that the “Fair Tax” described above will save small businesses billions of dollars by not requiring them to comply with the tax code, and hiring accountants. With the Fair Tax helping to sustain growth in our economy and encouraging foreign investment in a tax-free U.S., small businesses will grow into larger businesses. In addition, under Senator Gravel’s Health Security System, they will not be required to bear the burden of health care costs of their employees. The most important actions Senator Gravel would take that would affect small business is to do away with the corrupt federal income tax, the IRS and the tax code while removing from all businesses any responsibility for providing health care to their employees. These actions alone would provide more incentives that any other existing programs.

DODD: As president, I will cut through bureaucratic red tape, invest in communities and partner with businesses and entrepreneurs to help their businesses grow. I will support tax policies, like the Research and Development Tax Credit that stimulate growth. I will create a universal health care plan that sets businesses’ premiums based on their ability to pay. And, I will implement a comprehensive export strategy to increase American exports, including policies that encourage and assist small businesses in doing business overseas.

OBAMA: I have been active on small-business issues as a U.S. senator, including my co-sponsorship of the bipartisan Small Business Lending Reauthorization and Improvements Act. This bill expands the Small Business Administration’s loan and micro-loan programs which provide start-up and long-term financing that small firms cannot receive through normal channels.

I will also implement the Women Owned Business contracting program that was signed into law, but has yet to be implemented. And I will strengthen SBA programs that provide capital to minority-owned businesses, that help minority business owners apply for loans.

I will invest $250 million per year to increase the number and size of [business] incubators in disadvantaged communities throughout the country.

I will ensure that existing regulations governing small businesses are communicated in clear language. I will also work with the SBA to ensure that federal and state laws governing small businesses are not duplicative.

BIDEN: Small businesses are a good place to begin public investment. They are often at the forefront of innovation as well as provide great returns for investment. We need to improve access to capital markets and credit for small business owners.

The actions of this administration have made it more expensive and difficult for small business owners to get loans. The 7(a) program, which is the single largest source of loan money for the nation’s 25 million small businesses, has been attacked by this administration through high user fees imposed upon small businesses. As president, I would reform this policy and reduce fees, allowing small business owners the means needed to harness their innovation and pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

We must also build upon the success of the Small Business Innovation Research program, and expand the number of small businesses that receive federal research and development funds.

Corporate governance

Q: Is the Securities and Exchange Commission going too far, or does it need to be more stringent, in its oversight and enforcement of securities laws? What should be done to insure market integrity?

RICHARDSON: To insure market integrity, we must ensure that there are no more sweetheart deals, and we need more transparency in our corporate governance. It is unfair to shareholders to request anything less. At the same time, we must be extremely careful not to over-regulate our businesses and so drive them overseas. It will require a delicate balance, but it is the only way to avoid future Enrons and credit crunches while maintaining a healthy, robust economy.

EDWARDS: First, we need to modernize the compact in the face of today’s new economic realities. Instead of relying on a single employer to provide for its workers for life, we need universal health care and universal retirement savings accounts that follow workers from job to job.

Second, to restore the balance of power, we need to hold corporations accountable for serving the interests of workers, shareholders and customers, not just corporate insiders, with stronger corporate transparency laws and shareholder rights around executive pay and board performance.

Hard-working people everywhere should see that America’s corporate culture reflects the core values that our nation was built upon. They should see that America is about creating sustainable economic value. Because if we can be an example for the world, we can leverage our strength in the global marketplace to ensure fairness and prosperity not just here, but in trading nations everywhere.

DODD: As president, I will take several steps to ensure the strength and viability of our markets. First, I will improve transparency so that investors have more information about their holdings. Second, I will improve market integrity by strengthening the oversight and enforcement of existing laws. Through transparency and vigorous enforcement and oversight, I will not only restore and strengthen investor confidence in our markets; I will ensure that every American business gets a fair shake in the global economy.

OBAMA: I have proposed an immediate investigation into credit ratings agencies and their relationships to securities’ issuers, similar to the investigation the EU has announced. Credit agencies are paid by the issuers of securities, not by the buyers of securities, which creates a potential conflict of interest. This problem has been illustrated in the subprime market crisis in which credit rating agencies strongly rated subprime mortgage securities even as there were significant indications of large numbers of foreclosures and a weakening housing market.

I have also introduced legislation to ensure that shareholders have a right to vote on a non-binding resolution against excessive CEO pay. We know that it’s bad for business when boards allow their executives to set the price of their stock options to guarantee that they’ll get rich regardless of how they perform, and this measure will help shed light on some unsavory practices in corporate compensation committees.

GRAVEL: Senator Gravel would continue the Sarbanes/Oxley advances and provide more democratic power to shareholders to discipline the excesses of board members and executive officers while reining in the obscene salaries paid to management.

BIDEN: The corporate crises of recent years — Enron, WorldCom — make it clear that oversight and enforcement are essential to protect investors and markets. I believe the SEC should be stringent in its oversight and enforcement of securities law, which is why in 2002, I sponsored the Penalty Enhancement Act which required all reports filed with the SEC to be accompanied by written statements from the chairman of the board, CEO and CFO, certifying that the information provided is accurate. This act was later included in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.

Today, my beliefs remain firm. We must hold CEOs and corporations accountable – and stop them from walking away from their obligations. I would repeal the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, which harmed investors’ power to bring crooked executives to justice and defend the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which has provided investors with better information, against those who are seeking to weaken it.

CLINTON: I believe in markets, but markets require rules and vigilant oversight. With strong rules and good oversight the abuses at Enron and WorldCom could have been avoided. That would have been a good thing for Wall Street and Main Street. We have to always be sure that our regulations are up to date and accomplishing the intended ends.