Monday's Presidential Debate in Boca Raton, Fla., marked the last chance for President Obama and Governor Romney to go head-to-head on whose policies would better support small business. The evening's theme was foreign policy, but there was plenty of discussion of domestic policies, as well as of how each candidate's approach to foreign relations would influence U.S. businesses, jobs, and trade.
And yet, small business owners were left after this debate with as little concrete information as they were by the previous three about how either candidate's policies might improve their prospects, increase their access to capital, or encourage and support entrepreneurship and the increasing numbers of self-employed Americans.
The candidates got in their first small business quips in response to Bob Schieffer's question, "What do each of you see as America's role in the world?"
Obama charged Romney with having proposed "wrong and wreckless policies" at home and abroad. Romney took the opportunity to talk about his domestic policies, which he said include to "champion small business." Romney said, "Small business is where jobs come from. Two-thirds of our jobs come from small businesses. New business formation is down to the lowest level in 30 years under this administration. I want to bring it back and get back good jobs and rising take-home pay."
Obama retorted that when Romney was Governor of Massachusetts, "small businesses' development ranked about 48, I think, out of 50 states, in Massachusetts, because the policies that you're promoting actually don't help small businesses."
Obama added that the way Romney defines small businesses includes "folks at the very top. They include you and me. That's not the kind of small business promotion we need." With that, the President segued into a discussion of education policy, concluding that better education would "determine whether or not the new businesses are created here. Companies are going to locate here depending on whether we've got the most highly skilled workforce."
Romney argued, "It's so critical that we make America once again the most attractive place in the world to start businesses, to build jobs, to grow the economy. And that's not going to happen by just hiring teachers."
Small business also came up in discussions about China policy. "Over the long term, in order for us to compete with China, we've also got to make sure, that we're taking care of business here at home," Obama said. "If we don't have the best education system in the world, if we don't continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to — to create great businesses here in the United States, that's how we lose the competition."
Romney accused the Obama administration of investing in businesses such as Solyndra instead of in research, and laid out his intention to level the trade playing field with China: "On day one I will label them a currency manipulator which allows us to apply tariffs where they're taking jobs. They're stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods. They have to understand, we want to trade with them, we want a world that's stable, we like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules."
In his closing remarks, Obama said, he has a "plan to make sure that we're bringing manufacturing jobs back to our shores by rewarding companies and small businesses that are investing here not overseas."
Romney concluded the debate with a promise: "I'll get people back to work with 12 million new jobs. I'm going to make sure that we get people off of food stamps not by cutting the program but by getting them good jobs."