By Kent Hoover

As Congress stumbles its way into the year, an old song by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks popped into my head: "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away."

With one last look at the year behind us, I'd like to show my appreciation to the folks I cover by presenting a handful of awards for noteworthy accomplishments in 2001:

And the winners are ...

The Riverboat Gambler Award goes to the National Federation of Independent Business and other small business groups that put all of their chips on complete repeal of the estate tax.

They won their bet ­ the $1.4 trillion tax cut enacted in the spring phases out this hated tax on inherited assets in 2010.

Unfortunately, the tax comes back in 2011 unless Congress takes additional action ­ leaving NFIB with a major piece of unfinished work and family-owned businesses with a huge cloud of uncertainty.

The Destroy the Village in Order to Save It Award goes to Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who became chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords decided he didn't want to be a Republican anymore.

When the Bush administration blocked Kerry's effort to expand Small Business Administration programs to help small businesses hurt by Sept. 11, Kerry retaliated by putting a hold on all Bush administration nominations ­ including that of Tom Sullivan, executive director of the NFIB Legal Foundation, to head the SBA's Office of Advocacy.

This means the Office of Advocacy, which plays a key role in reducing regulatory burdens on small businesses, could remain without a leader well into next year.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Award goes to Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels, who put together the Bush administration proposal for a 40 percent cut in the SBA's budget.

Daniels wanted to increase fees for the SBA's flagship 7(a) loan program, begin charging for the consultation services provided by the nation's 1,000 Small Business Development Centers and eliminate a mentoring program for small businesses in low-income areas.

This budget proposal was dead on arrival in Congress, which provided the SBA with $229 million more than the administration requested. Instead of raising fees for SBA loans, Congress passed legislation to reduce them next year ­ sending Daniels and the president a clear signal not to mess with the SBA's budget.

The Duck and Cover Award goes to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, who helped win support for the legislation to kill the Clinton administration's ergonomics regulation by promising to address the issue with a new and improved proposal.

Chao bought time by holding a series of public forums this summer, where businesses urged voluntary programs to reduce repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome and labor union officials insisted that only a strong regulation would protect workers.

Chao promised a decision by September ­ then Sept. 11 hit, and she said the announcement would be pushed back until later in the fall. Winter began Dec. 21 without a peep from Chao.

Could it be that the Bush administration is waiting for Congress to leave town before announcing a decision that is bound to upset somebody, probably labor and its Democratic allies?

Kent Hoover is Washington bureau chief for American City Business Journals. He can be reached at khoover@bizjournals.com or 703-816-0330.