Small-Business Owners Do It, Why Can’t Washington?

Why can’t Washington balance the federal budget and reduce the $16 trillion public debt?

There is really no way to calculate all the different answers offered as excuses for this question. But when you sweep aside the political chatter designed to excite the press and scare the public, some other questions arise.

Does Washington really want to balance the federal budget and cut the debt?

Do politicians have more to gain by not balancing the budget?

It has been suggested that bringing federal spending in line with revenues would cause elected officials much greater pain than the current deficit mess. And actually balancing the budget would, of course, force them to make some very tough decisions.

Since the word “no” is rarely expressed during discussions of federal spending, perhaps the idea of government operating within its means—like small-business owners must–has become outdated idea in the nation’s capital. After all, when you’re spending money that isn’t coming out of your pocket, why worry about how much is going where?

Balancing the budget might also greatly reduce politicians’ opportunities for nationally televised press conferences and appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, not to mention limiting occasions to press the flesh with Hollywood stars, wealthy campaign contributors and special-interest advocates of no-limits spending.

Those who manufacture phony events, such as fiscal cliffs and pseudo-sequesters, should give serious thought to adopting a longer term view that extends past their terms of office. Simple mathematics dictates that no matter how many times the Can of Public Debt gets kicked down the road, sooner or later it’s going to kick back.

Ask any Main Street business owner about financial can-kicking. They’ll quickly tell you that such an unwise tactic is a sure way to wipe out the American Dream of owning and operating a small business. Plus, it causes unintended consequences such as killing jobs, endangering families and siphoning unexpected revenues out of the Treasury.

Small-business owners, unlike professional policymakers, understand simple math. They don’t spend their days talking to TV cameras or posturing for registered voters. They work hard, pay their bills and face customers who also know the importance of living within a budget.

That’s why successful small-business owners are determined to give customers quality, service and value. They understand the model: No customers, no money. No money, no small business.

Employees of small businesses also understand: No small businesses, no jobs.

The National Federation of Independent Business isn’t waiting for prime time. The nation’s largest small-business organization has launched a “Balance the Budget” petition drive in hopes of forcing Congress to adopt a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Only when Washington adopts the small-business operations model of fiscal responsibility will government spending reverse its destructive march towards bankruptcy. We just hope there’s still time to hit the brakes.

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About Dan Danner

Donald A. "Dan" Danner was named president and CEO of the National Federation of Independent Business, the nation's leading small business association, in February, 2009. Danner is only the sixth president in the history of the organization. Before rising to the top spot, Danner was executive vice president, overseeing NFIB's federal and state public policy and political activities as well as the organization's three 501 (c) 3 operations: the Research Foundation, Small Business Legal Center and the Young Entrepreneur Foundation. He came to NFIB in 1993 as vice president of the NFIB Education Foundation (now known as the Young Entrepreneur Foundation) and was named vice president of federal public policy in 1995. Previously, he was chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Danner also worked in the White House Office of Public Liaison, where he was special assistant to the president and deputy director of the department. Before joining the White House staff, Danner was an executive with Armco Inc., a steel manufacturing company. He held leadership positions in sales and marketing, as well as state and federal lobbying on issues such as energy, environment, taxes and trade. He also served four years as vice president of federal relations at George Mason University. A native of Middletown, Ohio, Danner holds an MBA degree from Xavier University and an electrical engineering degree from Purdue University.
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2 Responses to Small-Business Owners Do It, Why Can’t Washington?

  1. I’m sorry, Dan. Your grasp of business principles is impressive. Your resume of advisory positions regarding business WITHIN government is impressive. Your understanding of what’s required for the totality of governing is less impressive. Governments are not businesses, they can only partially operate like businesses, and to try to be organized like a small business would be especially disastrous. I do agree government COULD benefit by being more “business like”, but you have to solve the personality conflicts first, or it all stops.

    Unlike businesses, governments are as much a social expression of a culture as they are an organization existing to redistribute resources and provide services. Governments are tied to the entire past history of a nation, and must evolve through an understanding of those changes and choices. Business is much freer to create innovative models.

    Any business can focus effectively on what it wants to achieve, what it wants to do, and then move on to how. Governments have those goals, but they are also constantly engaged in a process of reflection and redefinition of who we are as a people, and who we wish to become as a nation. This symbolic and spiritual layer greatly complicates the process governments must go through to “get business done”. Note how well our current government isn’t moving forward. Psychological problems within a “family” will always trump its ability to get things done in a businesslike way. We won’t have the option of firing or replacing them for years.

    A parallel analogy to government would be the movie industry. It’s a business, but it’s also an art. They must exist in an equal balance. Although small businesses do involve diplomacy. leadership and negotiation, the main “art” is focusing on the bottom line. Not the same with government. Not even close. There’s the bottom line, the top line and the third and fourth dimensions.

    • Dan Danner says:

      I do understand that there are considerable constraints on how governments can operate and “getting business done” can be difficult.

      But governments do exist to provide important services for all of us, and we pay for those services … more and more every day. And I think we have a right to expect that our money is spent wisely. Innovation may be more difficult in government, but it shouldn’t be impossible.

      Even in the movie industry … that is a business and an art … companies who don’t take care of business go out of business every day. If consumers don’t value their “art,” they stop paying for it. And if they continue to spend more than they take in … they are soon out of business.

      The bottom line does matter to governments as well. As debt rises … more and more of taxpayer money goes just to pay the interest, not to provide the services we think we are paying for (currently that’s about $200 billion/year).

      Obviously the government won’t go out of business, but the choices aren’t pretty … either … reduce the amount of services they provide us or continue to ask all of us to pay more just to get the same services. Neither is likely to make consumers happy.

      I think most people would prefer that our government instead get its fiscal house in order, quit sending so much of our money to China and other creditors, and use our taxes to more efficiently provide the services we expect.

      Aka … operate more like a business.

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