With less than a week before Election Day, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney called for policies that support small business growth through tax incentives, trade agreements, and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in a small business forum on Friday.
The forum, organized by McCain’s office during his bid for re-election, took place at Infusionsoft in Chandler, Arizona. Since 2001, Infusionsoft has grown from a three-person startup to a company that employs more than 600 people and serves more than 125,000 users with small business sales and marketing software.
McCain praised Infusionsoft as a model example of small business job creation, saying that the company’s story of growth is “what America’s all about.”
“In these rather bleak times, when we’re trying to make America great again, this is what is so inspirational and makes us proud to be Americans,” McCain said, purposefully coughing for comedic emphasis after using Donald Trump’s trademark campaign slogan.
Both McCain and Romney—the Republican presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012, respectively—have said they do not support Trump’s campaign for the presidency. Yet both criticized Democratic leaders for their views on wage growth, taxes, and other issues affecting small businesses.
“The only way you can get real wages to go up for the American worker and the American family is if more businesses are successful and therefore have to hire more people,” Romney said, saying that Democratic leaders “don’t understand” how to increase wages. “To hire more people, they have to compete with each other and raise wages to hire the best people.”
McCain and Romney were joined by Infusionsoft co-founder and CEO Clate Mask, who spoke about the company’s struggles to gain funding and hire employees in its early years.
Mask said that small businesses can’t afford to hire if they’re taxed at the same rate as large corporations and called for more tax incentives that encourage private investment in small businesses. Angel investment in Infusionsoft paved the way for the company to grow and later attract millions in funding from venture capital firms including Bain Capital Ventures, which was co-founded by Romney.
“We would not be here today if it we were not able to get that private investment,” Mask said.
The panelists also discussed the role of trade agreements on the American economy, citing support for trade relationships with Mexico and Asian countries.
“Folks, we cannot be fearful of competition,” Romney said. “Because in true, fair competition, America will win every single time.”
Both politicians said repealing “Obamacare” would reduce health care costs for small businesses and employees. Romney advocated for states to create their own health care policies, while McCain called Arizona the “poster child” for recent health care premium increases over 100 percent.
“It has now turned into an unaffordable care act instead of an Affordable Care Act,” McCain said. “We need to go back and replace it with a free-market, entrepreneurial, incentive-based health care system.”
Amid the discussion of next week’s election, McCain and Romney joked about their own failed bids for the Oval Office. McCain said he slept like a baby after losing the presidential election (“Sleep two hours, wake up and cry”) and Romney borrowed the joke Walter Mondale made after losing the 1984 election to Ronald Reagan: “All my life, I wanted to run for president in the worst way—and that’s what I did.”
McCain and Romney called for the next president to work with members of both political parties to unite a nation divided by a contentious election season.
“Whichever of the two candidates is elected president, for the first time in history, they will be sworn in with an overwhelming lack of trust from the American people,” McCain said. “That’s very unfortunate. It’s also incumbent on that elected president to reach across the aisle.”
Still, McCain said he is optimistic about the future for American small businesses, again citing Infusionsoft as “the great American success story.”
Mask urged political leaders to consider small business growth as a “matter of national security.” Small businesses provide economic security, he said, and they have the potential to change local economies as Infusionsoft has.
“When we work to help small businesses grow, we create economic vitality,” Mask said. “We create better opportunity for our families and for our kids, for those who are wanting to work hard and wanting to make a difference.”