GOP candidates discuss key business issues: From the Print Issue of NHBR

This is the second, final and Republican installment on where the various presidential candidates stand on issues affecting business in New Hampshire, ranging from health insurance to government regulation.

It was a chance for each of the candidates to take a short break from the horse race and tell thousands of business owners a month before the presidential primary what they would do for them if they became CEO of the nation. Because of lack of space, the following is a summary of their positions, based solely on responses. For more details, their complete 150-word responses to our questions are online at NHBR.com.

Interestingly, Democrats – who generally seem to be more critical of the private sector – appear to have been more responsive to issues affecting small business in New Hampshire. Only one Democrat (Congressman Dennis Kucinich) failed to answer the New Hampshire Business Review survey, which was summarized in the Nov. 23-Dec. 6 issue and is available to be read online at NHBR.com. But three of the eight Republicans passed on it, despite repeated attempts to contact their campaigns on all levels.

Two — former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani — did not respond to questions as to why they wouldn’t participate. A spokesman for former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson would only say, “We don’t do surveys,” without any further explanation.

While all of the candidates missed the deadline for their responses to be summarized in this issue of the newspaper, they still have a chance to submit their responses to our Web site, which will be updated regularly.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Arizona Sen. John McCain, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo and California Congressman Duncan Hunter do “do surveys.” This is what they had to say:


Health Care

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

While the Democratic candidates talk about universal coverage sometimes (in the case of Clinton and Edwards) mandating coverage, the Republicans talk about a more limited government role, with fewer mandates and lower taxes.

Romney, whose own state passed mandated coverage under his leadership, does not go into too many specifics in his response, only saying that his plan provides access, expands portability and slows the rate of inflation without taxes, “significant” government spending or a big-government takeover of the health-care system.

On his Web site, he proposes making all health-care expenses tax deductible and eliminating the special tax treatment afforded employer-provided health plans.

McCain said his plan would “rein in the growth of costs, make insurance move from job and job and give small business and individual access to affordable and innovative insurance purchase.”

On his Web site he also calls for eliminating tax breaks for workplace coverage, instead offering credits ($2,500 for individuals, $5,000 for families, who could deposit any excess in a health savings account.)

Paul also would expand individual health deductions and access to health savings accounts. Hunter would give consumers the right to buy health insurance across state lines, require full disclosure of service costs, and would support the development of a direct payment system between patient and doctors. Tancredo would allow small-business owners to band together through their current professional associations to purchase health insurance at reduced rates.

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?

All the Republican candidates said they would crack down on illegal immigration, and secure the nation’s borders, though with various shades of toughness.

Paul says he would “end the welfare magnet,” Hunter would build a border fence in six months, Romney would “implement a mandatory biometrically-enabled and tamper-proof documentation and employment verification system” and Tancredo – who is perhaps the toughest on immigration — “would prosecute employers who knowingly hire illegal labor.”

They differ more on what to do with existing visa programs. Tancredo would “temporarily reduce legal immigration. American jobs belong to American workers.” Hunter would not let any immigrants in the “front door” (his term for legal visa programs) until “we secure our border and close the back door.” Only then “can we closely consider whether any changes are needed in our existing visa programs,” he says.

Paul said he supports programs such as the H-1B visa program. Romney said he would increase legal immigration, but did not offer details, and McCain favored undertaking needed “visa reforms to attract the labor that enhances U.S. competitiveness so that American businesses can hire and pay the best.”

Sub-prime mortgage

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?

No candidate said he is in favor of bailing out mortgage companies that made subprime loans or companies that invested in them.

“You take a high risk, and in some cases it pays off, and sometimes it doesn’t,” said Romney. “Homeowners, however, I feel very differently about.”

Romney, McCain and Hunter all support the Bush administration’s proposals that allow some homeowners to refinances their mortgages. McCain would expand the Federal Housing Administration’s ability to help and support the development of “innovative mortgage loans, while Hunter would try to move people to longer term fixed loans.

McCain also would step up prosecution of “unethical mortgage brokers who use predatory and fraudulent taxes” as well as “raise licensing standards for mortgage brokers,” and make the lenders that broker works for liable too.

Romney was silent on the issue of increased regulation. Hunter favored increased disclosure to borrowers, “but additional burdensome regulation is not the answer.”

Both Paul and Tancredo would do nothing. Paul said he flatly opposes any “bailout or new federal regulations” because they “restrict entry into the mortgage market for both consumers and business” and because both lenders and consumers “will assume that the government will bail them out.

Tancredo said that the federal government “can’t afford nor do they have the responsibility to bail out those who make bad business decisions” and would not support “regulations that would limit the abilities of millions of Americans from acquiring” a home.

Tax code

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

While no Republican candidate favored a tax increase, but they differed greatly on those that they would opposed.

McCain was the most vague on this, emphasizing simplicity: “have a single, fair and simpler system built on a few, lower tax rates and straightforward credits for work, health, education and those with a family.”

Romney was perhaps the most specific, favoring making the Bush tax cuts permanent, cutting marginal tax rates across the board (which he said would save money for S corporations), reducing the corporate tax rate, eliminating the inheritance tax, and reducing the interest, capital gains and dividends tax rate to zero for those making an adjusted gross income of under $200,000.

Hunter only mentioned one tax he would cut: the federal income tax on domestic manufacturing goods.

Paul would repeal the income tax and the estate tax, as well as support any other measure that would lower taxes, including ending income tax withholding, “which forces every business in America to waste valuable resources.”

Tancredo would support “a complete change in the tax code from one that is based on productivity to one that is based on consumption,” but did not offer specifics.

Labor

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

All of the candidates who responded favored some type of right-to-work legislation, which would prevent closed union shops.

McCain noted that he comes from Arizona, a right-to-work state. This might be a tough sell in New Hampshire, where right-to-work laws have failed repeatedly in the Legislature, even when both the executive and legislative branches were dominated by Republicans.

In addition, Paul and Romney opposed “card check” union certification, whereby a labor organization that collects a majority of union cards doesn’t have to go through the election process. Paul called it a “union-boss power grabs.”

Paul has always voted against raising the minimum wage, and Tancredo doesn’t believe it should exist in the first place. The others are silent on that issue. Romney and Hunter also added that they oppose unions using dues to contribute to candidates, and Paul would “stop federal agencies like OSHA from imposing costly regulations on small business and trampling on the due process rights of business owners.”

Environment

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

When it comes to the environment, the candidates are all over the map.

Romney was at his vaguest, supporting “common sense policies” which “protect our land, air, and water, while not inhibiting economic growth.”

McCain said he supports the market-based “cap and trade” approach that would allow those companies that reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to sell credits on the market.

Hunter said he favors tax breaks but no increased regulation. Paul would oppose any new regulation, instead favoring that things be settled in the courts.

“I would work to reinstate the polluter-pays principle, where people are held liable at common law for any damage done to the property of another,” Paul said. He said he opposes Kyoto agreement.

Tancredo said he would support the immediate and rapid development of nuclear power.

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?

Don’t look for an expanded role for the SBA, or add any existing programs, if any of these candidates became president. All said that they would help businesses by decreasing regulations and lowering taxes instead.

McCain said he would hold “existing agencies and programs of the federal government accountable for the money they spend, and make every aspect of government performance transparent.”

Hunter would “remove unnecessary bureaucracy.” Romney noted that in Massachusetts he created a “small business advocate to oversee all administration policies and ensure that regulatory processes are not curbing growth,” but as president he would only say that “I would continue to fight for small business.”

Paul would do away with the SBA outright because he opposes allowing “federal bureaucrats to pick winner and losers via small business loan programs,” but he promised that he would “cut out programs that benefit the ‘big guys’ before going after the SBA.”

Tancredo said that the most important initiative is to deregulate small businesses and reduce taxes.

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?

All of the candidates agreed: the SEC is going too far, and all favored reforming, if not outright scrapping, the Sarbanes-Oxley law.

McCain called it an “overreaction” to problems in “corporate accounting,” and if it could not be made “less burdensome” would seek a more “comprehensive approach.”

Hunter would reform it “in a manner that protects market integrity, but removes some of the regulatory burden.”

Romney would “eliminate cumbersome regulations and bureaucracies that hinder economic growth, capital formation, and job creation, such as Section 404 of Sarbanes-Oxley.”

Tancredo would “revisit” it and Paul said he opposed it from the start.

“As one of three House members — and the ONLY member of the Financial Services Committee — to oppose Sarbanes-Oxley, I have long been concerned that the Securities and Exchange Commission is over-regulating. This is a, if not the, major reason why more small companies are fleeing American capital markets and going private,” Paul said.