Dynamic Duo On Capitol Hill

Congressional small-business committees have been sleepy backwaters in the past, but they'll pack a lot more clout in 1997 thanks to new authority won last year.

Both will showcase Missouri lawmakers. Senator Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) stays on as Senate Small Business Committee chair, while Representative James M. Talent (R-Mo.) takes over the House counterpart. Small-business leaders are elated: "They are going to be a terrific team," says Karen Kerrigan, president of the 45,000-member lobbying group Small Business Survival Committee.

Both intend to use the 1996 Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act to turn their panels into snarling watchdogs over federal agencies. The law allows Congress to block regulators if they don't take into account the impact of new rules on small business. "We'll step up oversight," says Talent.

Bond will push a tax package to help the self-employed--making health insurance premiums fully deductible, easing restrictions on the home-office deduction, and tweaking the definition of independent contractor to extend new tax benefits to contractees. "Small business is getting hammered by the tax code," Bond laments. Talent will try to reduce the estate tax, which can force the sale of a family business.

The duo faces a fight. Regulators won't appreciate GOP lawmakers' meddling. And even in GOP ranks, budget hawks may balk at trimming estate or home-based business taxes. But with a power team at the helm, it won't be small business as usual.

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