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The Small Business Committee in the 104th Congress may be best remembered by Rep. Jan Meyers’ (R-Kansas) dogged determination to eliminate the SBA’s 8(a) program. During her tenure as chairman, committee hearings were of en based more on emotion than deliberation, and minority entrepreneurs constantly struggled to have their voices heard.
While many of the faces on the committee in the 105th Congress remain the same, business owners will find the group has undergone a major attitude adjustment. Meyers has retired and the more temperate Republican from Missouri, Jim Talent, has moved into the head chair.
Talent may already be known to many because of the Community Renewal Project, a package of anti-poverty reforms he introduced last year with Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Oklahoma). While Talent was unsuccessful in getting the program passed, many legislators on the other side of the aisle found him to be flexible and a thoughtful listener.
“He is not locked into a philosophy,” says Rep. Floyd Flake (D-New York), who has met with Talent of en to discuss community and economic development issues. “He will admit he doesn’t know everything about small business and will look to people who have some idea of what the small business owner goes through.”
Says Talent: “I want this committee to be seen as the advocate for small business and a repository where people can come and tell us where the problems are.”
This willingness to listen will be a significant and welcome change for minority entrepreneurs. “The most important thing is to open the lines of communication,” notes Washington attorney Weldon Latham, who represents several minority businesses. “I presume he’ll be willing to meet with minority trade organizations and get a firm understanding of the importance of minority business programs to the health of the entire nation.”
What other changes can be expected? For one, small business owners can be assured the next two years won’t be spent fighting for the survival of 8(a). Wholesale reform or a repeal of the program is not a priority for this chairman. And although Talent is not completely comfortable with 8(a) in its present incarnation, citing opposition to explicit quotas and set-asides, he acknowledges, “If we just got rid of it, we would be taking a step backward without any plan for moving forward.”
For more information about the SBC and upcoming hearings, call 2022255821; or www.house.gov/smbiz.