Searching for Lenny Skutnik: Small Business Owners and the State of the Union

The president delivers his State of the Union message tonight. We’re told he’s going to say some things about the economy. We don’t yet know what those things will be…but for clues, we’ve checked out this year’s list of Lenny Skutniks.

You probably don’t remember, and neither did we, till we looked it up: Lenny Skutnik became momentarily famous in 1982 after an Air Florida plane crashed into the icy Potomac River in Washington, DC.

He dove into the river to save a passenger. Days later, Skutnik sat in the gallery for the State of the Union. President Reagan pointed him out by name and commended him.

Thus began a tiresome tradition – the president pointing to “everyday Americans” in the gallery as an example of heroism – or, more typically, as an example of why their policies are so swell.

If a president hopes to launch some new signature program, then some potential beneficiary of that program is sure to be sitting in the gallery during the State of the Union.

Lenny Skutnik

Looking over this year’s Lenny Skutnik list, we see 25 invited guests. They are…

  • The vice president’s wife
  • The president’s chief liaison to Congress
  • Two corporate CEOs
  • Four people connected to the shootings in Tucson
  • Three service members, and one service member’s spouse
  • Five students, either high school or college
  • A cancer patient we’re told is benefiting from the new health care law
  • Seven small business owners

So one out of four guests is a small business owner. This might lead us to wonder if the president will call a truce in the War on Small Business we’ve explored in this space from time to time. Maybe he’ll launch an initiative to address issues like these…

  • Companies with 20 or fewer employees pay more than $10,500 per employee to comply with federal regulations, according to the Small Business Administration’s advocacy office
  • Companies with 500 or more employees pay less than $7,500 per employee
  • That gap will surely grow next year with the infamous “1099 provision” of the new health care law – requiring business owners to send IRS 1099 forms to everyone from whom they buy $600 or more in goods or services each year.

Sadly, no. Two of the invited small business owners got $500,000 in federal money to retool their part of a roofing business into a solar panel factory. Two more got $250,000 to open an organic ice cream shop.

Another supposedly saved $10,000 in health insurance premiums for his employees thanks to tax credits tucked into the health care law. And the last two own the company whose technology helped rescue the trapped miners in Chile.

Conclusion: Unless you manage to be part of a feel-good story or you’ve taken a handout for some politically correct cause, you don’t count. The War on Small Business is still on.

Addison Wiggin
for The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning