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Watching out for Main Street

When the Obama administration admitted last week the American economy actually shrank late last year, it was described on Wall Street as "unexpected."

Really? No one saw this coming?

The sources of an economic slowdown have been evident to even the most casual observer. As Main Street seeks to get back on its feet after the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression, it faces a trifecta of challenges from Washington: higher taxes, Obamacare and overregulation.

This trifecta recently was crystallized for me when Ed Marin, owner of Lampe Hardware in St. Francis, and I had a one-on-one conversation after a town hall last week.

Lampe Hardware has three employees. Marin explained that he wants to hire another person, but he has no idea what to expect in terms of his business expenses. He recently asked his accountant what it is going to cost to comply with Obamacare, and the accountant was at a loss: There is simply no way to know or plan. Keep in mind Marin's business is not mandated (yet) to provide health insurance under Obamacare. But with premiums going through the roof (despite promises otherwise from President Obama), his costs will go up as well.

Beyond complying with Obamacare, a convoluted tax code and regulatory structure leaves Marin fearful of what will happen if he unintentionally fails to "cross a 't' or dot an 'i.' " He pointed out to me there are top-ranking officials in Washington who can violate their own tax laws (former Treasury Secretary Geithner comes to mind), but one minor mistake on Mr. Marin's part and penalties come his way.

He pays his employees much more than minimum wage and more than meets all the labor and workplace mandates (doing so is just good business practice, he argues).

Still, he asks: "As a small business owner, how am I supposed to prepare for whatever comes out of Washington?"

Great question.

Main Street -- and all of America -- needs some certainty. Certain and common sense regulations. Real spending reductions so the economy can grow. Real tax relief so Mr. Marin can hire another employee. Instead, we see higher spending, more debt, more regulations, more mandates and less freedom. That's not what Main Street wants and needs.

It is my hope -- and demand -- that Washington lives up to all the campaign rhetoric about protecting small business -- the engine of our economy -- and all American workers. I will work hard in the House, but bureaucrats need to hear from regular, hard-working, tax-paying, job-creating folks on the ground, too.

As a member of the House Small Business Committee, I am pleased to announce the launch of the committee's "Small Biz Reg Watch." Through its website, the committee is educating and collecting comments from folks across the nation about regulations that will impact Main Street. I encourage all Kansans to review these proposed rules and submit their feedback to the president and his agencies: smallbusiness.house.gov/regwatch.

At this stage, small businesses and consumers can handle no more bad news -- unexpected or not.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler and Hutchinson, represents the First District of Kansas.