Opinion: Columnists

Sunday Reflection: Business survival in a second Obama term

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Late in the election season, President Obama made an odd play for business support. In a Sunday television interview last month, he told MSNBC: "We should have one secretary of business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like giving loans to SBA or helping companies with exports ... There should be a one-stop shop."

Indeed, more efficient government is better government, but only insomuch as the newly efficient government isn't attacking free enterprise.

Obama's "Secretary of Business" ploy is a reminder of just how devastating his term has been for entrepreneurs and offers little hope for the next four years.

Obama is the president who delayed the Keystone XL pipeline and its bounty of jobs, pushed "cap and trade" as part of an overall war on coal (and its millions of related jobs), made illegal recess appointments to pack the National Labor Relations Board and ram through union-friendly workplace rule changes, and piled up a mountain of current and future regulations that will cost the economy $1.8 trillion, as estimated by the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

But Obama is not really anti-business -- the reality is in fact much more complex. In truth, this president is pro-Big Business and seemingly incapable of comprehending the impact of his efforts on small business.

How has Obama helped Big Business? Here's one example: Obamacare benefits insurance companies by requiring purchase of their product, at the expense of virtually every other stakeholder group in health care, including consumers. Here's another: Government-led auto bailouts were great for a few companies (and for Obama's vote totals in Ohio) but bad for the engine of free enterprise. Wall Street "reforms," meanwhile, have simply shifted which large financial institutions are segregated into two groups: "too-big-to-fail" winners and too-small-to-care losers.

In each case, the president increases his own power, heightening incentives for other firms and industries to curry favor with his government. Another advantage to favoring big over small business is that it is relatively easy for politicians to cut deals with large firms because both prefer stability and predictability over the often-messy vibrancy of free enterprise. All in all, it's a relationship that works -- unless you happen to be a competitor, taxpayer, consumer or an employer trying to navigate a game rigged against you.

Small business has always been America's engine of job growth, but upstarts and innovators are harmed far more than large incumbent firms by arcane regulation.

One can understand Obama's failure to grasp what seems so basic to millions of entrepreneurs, their families and employees; as a community organizer, professor and lawyer, he has never had the need to make a payroll in a competitive marketplace. He has never signed the front side of a private-sector paycheck.

Americans rejected Mitt Romney, despite his decades of real-world business experience. With Obama at the helm for four more years, many of my fellow business owners and operators are still waiting to make major capital decisions. For now, we can only hope that someone reminds Obama that there is a world of struggling business owners outside the membrane of unreality and cronyism that surrounds Washington. We don't even need a cabinet secretary SEmD we need some relief from policies that are making hiring and investment too risky for comfort.

Brett McMahon is president of Miller and Long DC.

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