Divided They Stand

They all want your vote. But what are their views on small-business issues?

Out on the presidential campaign trail, small business is like motherhood and apple pie: No one is against entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, the four major candidates do have some disagreements about what they'd actually do for small companies on key issues, such as health care, taxes, tort reform, and e-commerce. Where do they stand on Medical Savings Accounts, which would offer tax breaks to individuals who set aside money for health care? What about the accrual method of accounting, the little-noticed, recently enacted tax measure that has made it extremely difficult for entrepreneurs to sell their businesses? Here's a scorecard, including each candidate's rating from the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the leading, and generally rightward-leaning, small-business lobby.

George W. Bush

HEALTH CARE: Favors Medical Savings Accounts. Would allow small businesses to deduct health-insurance costs.

TORT REFORM: Wants limits on damage verdicts against business. Would force plaintiffs to pay costs if they lose after rejecting a "fair settlement."

TAXES: Would eliminate the estate tax. Supports changing federal rules governing the accrual method of accounting.

WEB: Favors a moratorium on taxation and a ban on Net access charges.

IMMIGRATION: Would expand H-1B visas, which enable employers to hire skilled immigrants to fill high-tech jobs.

NFIB RATING: None, no voting record. But received NFIB nod in 1998.

Al Gore

HEALTH CARE: Would offer small firms that insure their employees a 25% tax credit. Would give workers who don't get benefits a 25% refundable credit. Supports insurance purchasing cooperatives.

TORT REFORM: No position yet, but the Clinton Administration resisted tort reform.

TAXES: No position on estate taxes or accrual accounting. Supports tax breaks for worker-retraining and school tuition. Favors new R&D credit.

WEB: Supports moratorium on Internet taxation and a "duty-free zone" in cyberspace.

IMMIGRATION: Refuses to commit to expanding the H-1B visa program.

NFIB RATING: 32%, based on 16 years as U.S. Senator and Representative.

John McCain

HEALTH CARE: Favors Medical Savings Accounts and 100% tax deductibility of health-insurance costs for the self-employed. Supports insurance purchasing cooperatives.

TORT REFORM: Supports federal limits on damage verdicts against small business and stricter time limits on product-liability claims. Would eliminate joint liability for non-economic damages for businesses employing fewer than 25 people.

TAXES: None for estates under $5 million. No position on accrual method.

WEB: Only major candidate to back a permanent ban on Internet taxation.

IMMIGRATION: Supports expansion of H-1B visas.

NFIB RATING: 84% lifetime (100% in 1999).

Bill Bradley

HEALTH CARE: Would make health insurance premiums excludable from income for tax purposes. Seeks to ease insurance burden by encouraging insurance purchasing cooperatives.

TORT REFORM: No position, but consistently opposed caps in product-liability cases as a U.S. Senator.

TAXES: Would reduce business "loopholes" in exchange for lower tax rates. No position on state taxes, accrual accounting method.

WEB: Supports temporary moratorium on Internet taxes.

IMMIGRATION: Would expand H-1B visa program.

NFIB RATING: 26%, based on three Senate terms from New Jersey.

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