(This post originally appeared on The Hill)
Watch the impeachment hearings and what do you see? Not just members of Congress interviewing witnesses. You also see attorneys, lobbyists, consultants, pages, interns, the media and countless others spending their time and resources on something that will more than likely end right where it began: A stalemate between the president’s supporters and his opponents.
And who suffers because of all of this? That’s easy: It’s the people looking to Congress for legislation that will improve their lives. That includes the nation’s small business owners, their employees and their families. That’s because there are at least five significant things that are not being done in Washington that not only benefit the very people who employ roughly half of the workers in this country, but who bear a significant part of the economic brunt of Congress’ non-actions.
For example, there’s immigration. As the economy has grown and the administration’s immigration reforms have become more rigid, small operators of independent hotels in New England to landscapers in Arizona have struggled to find qualified workers. Brilliant developers who previously worked for U.S. tech firms are heading back to their own countries, and startup entrepreneurs who could potentially employ thousands are being asked to leave.
Unfortunately, the business owners trying to navigate in this uncertain environment are not only subject to the whims of executive orders and presidential tantrums. They are also regularly elbowed out of the competition for the limited pool of immigrant workers by larger companies who have more attorneys, HR consultants and cash to take away the lion’s share of available bodies. New immigration laws are critical to bringing sanity to this system. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen with this Congress.
Also not going to happen is the SECURE Act. This proposed legislation, which was passed almost unanimously by the House, would help level the playing field for small businesses competing with big firms by making it easier to setup more affordable retirement plans that could in turn be offered to part-time workers.
It would also allow older workers to delay distributions from their plans, which could encourage them to work longer if they wished. This bill would make it much easier for workers to save for retirement and for employers to help them. But not right now, I guess. Not during impeachment.
House leader Nancy Pelosi said last week that Democrats are “within range” of reaching a North American trade agreement they can support. Don’t hold your breath. The changes that Democrats are likely to approve will just as likely be opposed by Republicans there and in the Senate, where it also has to pass. The agreement, which was signed a year ago, would provide many opportunities for small businesses by opening up markets across the continent, updating rules and providing a more stable legal and economic environment for trade and administration. But it needs ratifications from the legislatures of Mexico (done), Canada (pending but expected) and the U.S. (not done, not really pending and, while impeachment dominates, not likely to happen).
Here’s another little-known victim of impeachment: The Work Opportunity Tax Credit. This helpful tax benefit will expire at the end of 2019. Without any “extenders” from Congress, small businesses will be denied a great government incentive (a tax credit of up to $9,600) that helps them hire the long-term unemployed, former inmates, military veterans or those on welfare looking to get back into the workforce.
It’s hard enough for small companies to compete for workers against larger companies that can offer more compensation and benefits. Not having credits like this makes it that much harder. I guess Congress has other more important things to do, like failing to send the president to prison.
Speaking of prisoners, the House Committee on Small Business – one of the few political bright spots in this bitterly partisan place – recently approved several reforms that would not only help small businesses hire more workers who were formerly incarcerated but also lower the barriers to entry for these same small firms to get more government contracting dollars. Do you think the House, let alone the Senate, will have the time to consider and vote on these great bills that will help businesses grow, hire more people and invest in their futures? Of course not. There’s an impeachment crisis going on, man, don’t you see?
Hey, maybe it’s not all bad news. Some of the bills that the House has sent to the Senate – which include legislation to increase the national minimum wage, provide more holidays to workers and strengthen some workplace penalties against employers who discriminate – would certainly add more costs and red tape for smaller firms.
Or maybe, like my father always said, the less the government does, the better it is for business owners to do what they do. My dad said many smart things, but I’m not sure that was one of them.