McCaskill talks small business help at city roundtables

The senator also said health care reform would help businesses, not hurt them.
Sen. Claire McCaskill talks with Patricia Jackson at a roundtable discussion Thursday in Columbia. Jackson owns Sunshine Cleaning and said the economic downturn has made it more difficult for her company to get loans and pay its workers.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., hosted a roundtable discussion with Columbia-area small business leaders Thursday to get their ideas on reducing the state and the nation’s unemployment rate.

“I’m here to do something people like me ought do more of: listen,” McCaskill said in her opening remarks.

Axiom advertising agency Vice President Ken Leija said Congress’ recent jobs bills doesn’t give enough support to small businesses.

“We haven’t seen any of it,” Leija said. “There hasn’t been a lot of loosening of credit.”

McCaskill said increased regulation of the financial industry in the wake of the recession is to blame. She said banks are reluctant to make any risky loans for fear of violating the new rules and might not process loans made through the Small Business Administration because of the paperwork.

David Nivens co-owns Midwest CompuTech, which provides technical support to school districts. He said the company had to make small cutback this year, but anticipated larger cuts in coming years.

“We’ve been able to take advantage of some projects like outsourcing,” Nivens said. “That’s been a good thing for us, but we obviously don’t want the economy to continue as it has been.”

McCaskill said states are primarily responsible for determining how much money schools get to spend on such services, not the federal government. But she said the federal government does help states balance their budgets, like it did last year when Missouri used $1 billion in stimulus package money to balance its budgets.

McCaskill also defended the health care reform bill President Barack Obama recently signed. In responses to several business owners, McCaskill said the reforms would help them lower their employees’ premium, and they would be able to deduct health insurance costs from their taxes.

She encouraged them to research the health care bill through non-partisan groups like the Kaiser Foundation.

“I have been moderately surprised at how little the business people I’ve visited with so far actually know and understand about the health care bill,” she said.

Earlier Thursday, McCaskill hosted a similar forum at Truman State University in Kirksville and met with Democrats in the state legislature to discuss the legislation. McCaskill has hosted similar roundtables in seven other cities across the state over the last week.

In addition to economic concerns of small business, McCaskill also addressed the rising federal debt.

“Frankly we need to be pivoting on government spending to being much more conservative because we have overspent for, really, the last 15 years,” she said. “We now have a federal deficit that demands our attention.”

McCaskill talked about a bill she co-sponsored to limit federal non-discretionary spending and also about a bipartisan commission the president appointed to look for ways to cut the deficit.

After the meeting, McCaskill talked about federal benefits for unemployed workers set to expire next week. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked a one-month extension of federal unemployment benefits before Congress went on its spring recess, meaning benefits will expire Monday for some people who are still out of work.

McCaskill was confident Thursday the Senate would soon pass an extension of federal benefits in spite of GOP opposition.

“We’ll get it done,” McCaskill said. “Even Sen. Coburn admits that we’re going to get it done. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what they think they’re accomplishing by doing things like this.”

Jobless numbers the U.S. Bureau of Labor released Friday show Missouri’s unemployment rate for February was about equal to the U.S. average of 9.7 percent.

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