MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Tomorrow, the House is scheduled to vote on a GOP measure to cut taxes on small businesses. But what exactly is a small business? Small suggests a handful of employees, a shop, maybe a restaurant or a little tech firm. Well, it turns out the reality of the nation's 28 million small businesses is in many cases quite different.
NPR's Tamara Keith has this look at what counts as a small business and just who would be helped by the House tax cut.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: House Republicans say their tax cut would help millions of small businesses. Eric Cantor is the majority leader and author of the bill.
REPRESENTATIVE ERIC CANTOR: This is a bill which will directly help small businesses create jobs.
KEITH: The total cost of the one-year measure is $46 billion. An analysis commissioned by a pro-GOP outside group, and now posted on Cantor's website, says if the tax cut only lasts for one year, it will create 40,000 jobs. Some quick back of the envelope math puts that at more than a million dollars per job.
NPR asked House Speaker John Boehner whether that was cost-effective.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: I think we expect it'll create far more jobs than that. But small businesses who file as individuals, as I did in my business, face enormous challenges. And rather than them paying these taxes, that money could stay in their business to help them buy more equipment, hire more workers and expand their business.
MAKINI HOWELL: Eric Cantor's bill would not help me at all.
KEITH: That's Seattle small business owner Makini Howell. Technically, the tax cut might help her a little. With her family, Howell owns a mini mart, a vegan sandwich wholesale business, and small group of vegan restaurants.
HOWELL: So we're headed upstairs to Plum. It is Monday night.
KEITH: Plum is one of Howell's restaurants. It's a bistro, serving upscale health food without any of the crunchy ambiance.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi, guys.
KEITH: All told, Howell has about 30 employees.
HOWELL: It was great to open up and to be able to create like 25 more jobs than were there and to become a viable part of the neighborhood that we're in. That was awesome.
KEITH: Less awesome are the company's profits at the end of the year, because their margins are thin and so much gets poured back into the business.
HOWELL: The reality is, you make 25, 35 - my income has decreased steadily since I became a small business owner.
KEITH: Under the bill from House Republicans, small business owners - businesses with fewer than 500 employees - would be able to deduct 20 percent from their business income, with some exceptions. For Howell, the tax savings would work out to a few hundred bucks.
HOWELL: I mean, for a business like mine, if you just do the math, it's not going to help.
KEITH: It's not like she'd turn down the extra cash, but it certainly wouldn't be enough to hire anyone else or to make a major equipment purchase.
Much larger firms and much more profitable companies would get most of the tax benefit, says Joe Rosenberg of the Tax Policy Center.
JOE ROSENBERG: Your typical small business, what we might think of as your mom and pop store, is probably not going to see much benefit from this tax provision. The largest benefits go to larger businesses that report a lot of income.
KEITH: Although the image of a small business owner is someone like Howell, under the Small Business Administration definition used by the House bill, a business with 499 employees could also be considered small. Some 99.9 percent of the businesses in the country are small by this definition. And according to SBA data, the vast majority of them, more than 20 million firms, don't employ a single person other than the owner.
ANGELA CARAGAN: My name is Angela Caragan and I am the owner of A Cupcake Company.
KEITH: She's also the chief pastry chef, marketing director - the whole thing. Last year, she made less than a thousand dollars baking gourmet cupcakes. But for her it's not really about the money.
CARAGAN: It's my way of sharing a little bit of smile and happiness with someone on their special day.
KEITH: Like many people who report business income on their taxes, Caragan has another job, a full-time job. She wouldn't qualify for the tax cut because businesses are required to have employees to take advantage of it. So the full-time freelance photographer or independent consultant who works alone would be out of luck, although the assumption is that many of these sole proprietors will reorganize their books and add a family member to the payroll to get in on the tax break.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.