Katie Arrington and Joe Cunningham Debate04.jpg (copy)

Democrat Joe Cunningham, left, and Republican Katie Arrington in their first debate in South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 at the Lightsey Chapel Auditorium on the campus of Charleston Southern University. Andrew J. Whitaker/ Staff

At the recent congressional candidate debate between Katie Arrington and Joe Cunningham, two issues were discussed that are of particular interest to my organization, the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce. While the chamber does not endorse any political candidate, we strongly support and defend our positions on issues.

We are pleased that offshore oil exploration and drilling in the Atlantic is a top issue in this election. The chamber has opposed this offshore oil exploration and drilling since January 2015.

Our small business coastal economy of tourism, commercial fishing and recreation is dependent on a healthy ocean. Offshore oil development activity is incompatible with this economy. We don’t get a second chance to protect our ocean once the sonic blasting searching for oil and the inevitable oil leaks and spills start.

Therefore, for two reasons we are very concerned about Ms. Arrington’s recent conversion to the position of opposing drilling off the South Carolina coast.

First, all the Atlantic Coast states are in this together. Spilled and leaked oil in the ocean does not recognize state boundaries. Oil in the water anywhere along the Mid- and South Atlantic Coast will find its way to our beaches, coral reefs, estuaries and marine food chain. Advocating to protect just our state is dangerous and ill-informed. It is an indication that the position is political rhetoric, not a true commitment.

And the latter is the basis for our second concern. Ms. Arrington flipping positions only months after totally supporting the Trump administration’s efforts to open the entire Atlantic to oil exploration and drilling smells like a campaign tactic to take this critical issue off the minds of the voters. But when the election is over, Big Oil and the Trump administration will have their way with a campaign-driven drilling opponent.

Government policies come and go. But offshore drilling is a forever decision. This is what makes opposition to offshore oil exploration and drilling the litmus test for a coastal congressional candidate.

As to the second issue discussed at the debate, health care, I must strongly object to Ms. Arrington’s reported comment about the Affordable Care Act: “What Obamacare did to small businesses broke this nation.”

The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce has been working on the issue of health insurance reform since 2001. For the previous two decades, small businesses had experienced double-digit premium increases annually. It was simply unsustainable, and something had to be done.

We were pleased that Congress started to address the problem in 2010 with the basic premise that for insurance premiums to be controlled, everyone had to have some form of coverage to stop health care costs for the uninsured being passed on to the insured.

The chamber worked with members of Congress to make sure that whatever reform passed, it would not mandate that small businesses provide group health insurance and that there would be an incentive to small business owners to offer the benefit.

Both goals were essentially achieved.

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When the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) passed, the employer mandate did not apply to any business with fewer than 50 employees. That meant that about 96 percent of all businesses were exempt from being required to provide group health insurance. In addition, a new tax credit was made available to any business with fewer than 24 workers for offering this employee benefit.

Thus, Obamcare did not hurt small businesses as Ms. Arrington proclaims because almost all small businesses were exempt from any mandate. If a business does not want to offer group health insurance, it doesn’t have to do it.

What the law aspired to do was create a private health care system that would have every American with some form of health insurance. It expanded Medicaid for the low income. It required health insurance companies to accept pre-existing health conditions without charging higher rates. And Americans without any other insurance were to take personal responsibility for their own coverage by purchasing policies with federally subsidized premiums. While this reform might not have been optimal, it was heading toward success before 2017 when a new administration and Congress started undercutting the program.

If Ms. Arrington wants to criticize a health insurance program she doesn’t understand yet wants to totally eliminate, she should not do it in the name of small business.

Congressional candidates should thoroughly understand and take serious positions on the critical issues of offshore oil development and health insurance. Voters should demand it.

Frank Knapp is the president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce.