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Seattle, Washington

Rep. Jim McDermott
Emerging at The Emerald City

As I ventured across country to Seattle, I was preparing myself for its infamous rainy weather. I was pleasantly surprised to step out of the airport into sunshine and blue skies. Christened "The Emerald City", Seattle’s location along on the Puget Sound has made it a major hub for shipping and transporting goods domestically and internationally. The state of Washington hosts many large corporations such as Boeing and Starbucks. However, the entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in this state. According to the SBA Office of Advocacy, Washington is home to approximately 578,300 small businesses and 387,500 self-employed individuals.

One of these entrepreneurs is NASE member Janice Kajanoff, owner of Zentek Clothing Company, who was gracious enough to take time away from running her business to attend a town hall meeting with me hosted by her legislator, Rep. Jim McDermott. Congressman McDermott has been representing the 7th District of Washington, which encompasses Seattle and other outlying areas, for 20 years. Needless to say, he knows a thing or two about how Congress operates and his tenure has allowed him to be part of key congressional committees.

The Issues: Free Trade and Foster Care
Rep. McDermott addressed a number of topics in his town hall. Since many jobs in the Seattle area come from its shipping and transport industries, free trade issues seem to be of large interest to the town hall attendees. Concerns were expressed about free trade agreements, such as NAFTA and the pending Columbia Free Trade Agreement, and their affect on American jobs as well as the labor rights issues they invoke. Some of our nation’s trade agreements are with countries that have, by our nations’ standards, poor labor practices. Rep. McDermott expressed his understanding of his constituents concerns on this topic but highlighted the importance of these trade agreements to America’s economy.

The Congressman made a point of mentioning both foster care and unemployment reform, which are two issues he is championing. He has introduced legislation to improve foster care which would prevent children from automatically aging out of the system at 18 and ensure financial assistance is given to foster relatives such as grandparents when they become legal guardians of their grandchildren, who would otherwise be put in the foster care system if a relative had not stepped forward.

Government Regulation Standpoint
Health care reform and the current housing crisis were raised at the meeting which led the Congressman to share his view of government regulation. Rep. McDermott commented that regulating our system is a rightful role that our government should play. He believes government must step in to protect people from free enterprise excessiveness; the effects of which can be seen when you look at our health care system and the housing issues we are now facing. Congressman McDermott feels that whenever you deregulate, it is ordinary people who suffer.

Unfortunately, NASE does not agree entirely with the Congressman regarding his view of government regulation. While government should always keep a watchful eye and step in when abuses in our system occur, too much regulation can hamper the ability of entrepreneurs to start and grow their business. In addition, excessive regulation can make it too costly or burdensome for a micro-business owner to keep his or her doors open.

The Future Congress
Looking ahead to the 111th Congress in 2009, Rep. McDermott has an ambitious agenda of items he hopes Congress will address. One of the major dilemmas we face is our deficit and the lack of funds Congress has to work with to pay for both existing programs and new proposals. I asked the Congressman where he thought the money would come from to tackle all of the important issues we are facing.

Rep. McDermott expressed his disappointment with the current Bush Administration policies which he feels have put us in this negative financial situation. The tax code needs to be fixed and if action is taken in 2009 it may, in Rep. McDermott’s opinion, provide Congress with necessary funding to offset costs of government programs. The biggest change the Congressman is supporting is an increase in taxes on the highest taxpayers ($500,000 or over in income). He commented that there is no reason why the top five hedge fund managers made more money than the bottom 9 million lower income citizens.

Final Thoughts
Throughout the afternoon at this town hall, there was a lively exchange of opinions and ideas between Rep. McDermott and his constituents. It was nice to see such an informed and engaged group of citizens. I asked Janice what she thought of the event from a micro-business owner perspective and here were her thoughts: “I think access to financing is the biggest issue with my business. A bad economy and inflated gas and food prices hurts everybody. The Congressman didn't address small business directly, but his comments were very enlightening. I sat there thinking why I hadn't come to one of these town hall meetings sooner. There are very few chances to be able to speak with someone who is involved with making decisions that affect our lives.

As a small business owner you have to be aware of anything that affects your business. The problem I see is that few of these legislators have ever run their own business. The last thing we need is more layers of paperwork that we have to hire someone to interpret for us. I think before [Congress] can pass any more laws they must prove that it will result in more net money for the government. They should have a bottom line, just as we do.”

I want to again thank NASE member Janice Kajanoff for joining me at Rep. Jim McDermott’s town hall event in Seattle, Washington. For more information on issues facing the self-employed and micro-business, please visit NASE’s advocacy website. Stay tuned for our next stop on the trail!


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