Owners of small or independent businesses want less interference from government and told Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest so Friday.
At a Maryland Inn breakfast meeting, members of the National Federation of Independent Business also queried the 1st District Republican on health care, taxes and education.
The group's leaders attempted to distinguish the congressman, who is seeking his second term, from Rep. Tom McMillen, a Democrat now in the 4th District.
The two incumbents will go head-to-head in a race for the redrawn 1st District, which includes part of Anne Arundel County.
Although the nation's largest small-business advocacy group does not endorse candidates, it has thrown its support behind Gilchrest through Political Action Committee contributions and a series of meetings to familiarize members with the candidate. The group has about 1,000 members in the county, said John Motley, vice president for government affairs.
The group supports Gilchrest because of his voting record during the past two years, Motley said. The Eastern Shore congressman took the group's position on 80 percent of votes during his first term, while McMillen shared the group's views on 46 percent of votes his first term, 26 percent his second term and 20 percent so far this term, Motley said.
On Friday, McMillen took issue with the group's monitoring method.
"NFIB gets off-base sometimes," McMillen said, adding that the group rarely focuses on major economic problems: the federal deficit, the regulatory burden placed on businesses, and credit.
Mary Reed, a legislative representative, cited as the group's top concern "the inability of small businesses to provide health care for employees and expenses in health insurance premiums."
The group supports allowing self-employed business owners to deduct 100 percent of their health insurance, rather than the current 25 percent. The group also supports a bare-bones health-care package that small businesses could offer employees.
The group opposes parental leave legislation passed by
Congress, but vetoed by President Bush, that would have provided employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The package would have forced employees to offer a rigid program, when 90 percent of small businesses already offer such leave voluntarily, she said.
"The most important thing for most small-business owners is for government to leave them alone as much as possible," Motley said.
Merrill Cohen, owner of Aquarium Products, a Glen Burnie business that manufactures items for aquariums, agreed. He said small businesses like his can be easy targets for overzealous federal and state government agencies, costing both the business and the taxpayers unnecessarily.
Although he has been in business more than 40 years, followed rules and had no accidents in his plant, his company has been inspected by Maryland Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials three times during the past 10 months, seemingly changing the rules on each visit and disrupting his business for up to a week at a time, he said.
In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has fined the business $27,000 for a device Cohen uses to remove slime from a pump inside an aquarium. Although the slime-removing agent cannot harm the environment, the EPA claims it could be considered a pesticide and is unregistered, Cohen said.
"Our regulatory agencies have gone berserk," Cohen told Gilchrest, who promised to look into both situations.
Although McMillen co-sponsored the parental leave bill the business group opposes, he supported restricting it to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, said Brad Fitch, a McMillen spokesman. It would not have applied to 90 percent of the group's members, Fitch said.
"Every other nation in the industrialized world has parental leave," McMillen said. "The fact is, we've watered that bill considerably down. I'd rather be on the side of progress and women than to stick my head in the sand and say that's why the economy is not progressing."
Paulette Pidcock, director of federal affairs for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., one of the state's largest employers, said McMillen has supported business interests, saving jobs and keeping products affordable for consumers.
McMillen was instrumental in including a provision in a federal energy bill that allows utilities to purchase power from "pools" at a cheaper rate, saving customers money, Pidcock said.