Working for small business

Greg Nash

After nearly 18 years with the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), Brad Close last month officially became
president of the group, which is working to make permanent some of its recent legislative victories.

“One of the things that NFIB does which no one else does is we are solely focused on truly small businesses,” Close, who started with the NFIB in 2002 as a House lobbyist, said in an interview last week in his office in downtown D.C. “And I think that is really important, that that voice continues to be heard.”

The NFIB’s influence was evident in 2017 as GOP lawmakers were moving their tax-cut package through Congress.

A top priority for Republicans and the NFIB was to provide tax relief to pass-through businesses — those that pay taxes through the individual tax code on their owners’ returns, rather than through the corporate tax code.

The NFIB publicly came out against the initial version of the tax bill introduced in the House, arguing that its pass-through provision did not provide relief for many small business owners. House members then made changes to the bill that allowed the NFIB to support it, and Senate Republicans introduced a bill that took a different approach on pass-throughs that NFIB also backed.

“The House bill got significantly better,” Close said, “And then when it went to the Senate … we’d been having good conversations with them all along.”

The version of the tax-reform package that President Trump signed into law was similar to the Senate bill, creating a 20-percent deduction for certain income for pass-through businesses owners.

But the pass-through deduction and most other tax changes to the individual code in the GOP tax law are currently set to expire after 2025. Republicans put expiration dates on those provisions in order to comply with budget rules that allowed them to pass the tax law through the Senate by a simple majority vote.

“Making that small business deduction, the individual rate cuts, some of the other parts that impact small businesses, getting those made permanent parts of law would be a just huge, huge win for small businesses,” Close said, calling it the NFIB’s top priority on Capitol Hill.

Trump administration officials have signaled that more tax cuts would be a second-term priority for the president if he wins reelection, but Democrats oppose the GOP tax law and are not rushing to extend its temporary provisions.

Close said that Congress “tends to do things at the last minutes,” which could be the case with the individual tax cuts as well.

“I think it’s always possible to do it in the next few years,” he said. “But I think it’s likely that the pressure and the impetus to get that done will be felt more by Congress as we get closer to the expiration date.”

Since Close joined the team, the NFIB has also been involved in a number of high-profile court cases, including in 2012 when the organization was the plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of ObamaCare that was taken up by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court upheld ObamaCare’s individual mandate in that case, but the court has recently announced that it will hear a new case challenging the mandate — the penalty of which was reduced to zero in the 2017 tax law — and the constitutionality of ObamaCare in its next term. Close said that his group is looking at that case to see if they want to weigh in with a friend-of-the-court brief.

Close said he plans to maintain an emphasis on the NFIB’s efforts at the state level. Some policy ideas that would affect small businesses start at the state level and then become a topic of discussion at the federal level, he pointed out.

“Sometimes we’re playing offense, sometimes we’re playing defense in D.C., but the state programs [are] always a place for us to stick up for our members, to fight for them. To push good ideas or push back against bad ones,” Close said.

Many of the NFIB’s top priorities tend to have more support from Republican members of Congress than Democratic ones, but Close said the group is “always looking to find issues where we can have broad appeal, broad support for a small business agenda.” He referenced a bill concerning anonymous shell companies that the NFIB opposed and that a small number of House Democrats joined with most Republicans in voting against.

The NFIB currently has about 300,000 members across a variety of industries, though Close said the group doesn’t release a specific number. Businesses that are members have an average size of 10 to 15 employees, and about 15 percent of members are self-employed sole proprietors, Close said.

Recent news reports have indicated that NFIB is facing its own problems too, including financial challenges and declining membership.

But Close was positive about the group’s situation, saying “we’re strong.”

When asked if there are things the NFIB is doing to build membership, Close said that the group in recent years has been focused on giving their members opportunities to interact with their legislators in their hometowns.

Gary Palmquist, who worked with Close at the NFIB from 2007 to 2010 and is now a senior vice president at Thorn Run Partners, said that Close’s long history at the NFIB makes him a good choice to lead the organization.

“I think he’s a great fit,” Palmquist said. “He has come up through the NFIB, worked his way up. He knows its members, he knows their priorities.”

Close went to high school in the Chicago area and held several jobs on Capitol Hill prior to working at the NFIB, including working for his hometown congressman, former Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.).

Close said that he spends much of his free time with his family.

“With two teenagers and a fifth grader, most of my weekend is given to them, which I enjoy,” he said. “But if I get a little quiet time on my own, I like to go hit some of the rivers in Virginia and go out for a few hours and fish, just kind of walk in the river and do a little fishing. That’s how I relax.”

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