By Mike Glover

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry on Monday offered a proposal to aid small businesses he said have gotten little more than "a cold should and silence" from President Bush.

Kerry said he would elevate the head of the Small Business Administration to a cabinet-level position and create a new post aimed at giving small businesses a voice in developing trade policy.

He called for an increase in government contracts going to small businesses, aimed at reversing a trend he said is headed in the wrong direction.

"We could be helping a whole bunch of small businesses get a piece of the federal pie," said Kerry.

He argued that, while federal contracts have increased by about 7 percent, the amount of contracts going to small businesses has dropped by nearly 14 percent.

That's largely because Bush has a proclivity for larger businesses, Kerry argued.

"George Bush is making it tougher for small businesses in this country," said Kerry. "That tells the whole story."

Kerry said he would set a goal getting the small business share of federal contracts to 30 percent of the total. He also said $170 million in equity funding for small businesses would create 850,000 jobs.

Another portion of the package would allow short-term tax deferrals which allows growing businesses to reinvest money.

Kerry unveiled his plan during a meeting with about 15 women owners of small businesses, huddling over coffee and scones at a Des Moines coffee shop.

"I've been there and I've worked with small businesses for a long period of time," said Kerry. "The help that I'm giving is a more direct leveraging of the ability of small businesses to make it in America."

In offering his plan, Kerry sought to cast the issue as one where President Bush favors the powerful.

"His deal is to give to the powerful interests more power, it is to give in to the money and to the most powerful interests in America ... at the expense of the average person," said Kerry.

Republicans fired back that there are signs the nation's economy is turning around, and that's because of Bush's economic policies. Gentry Collins, deputy chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, said Kerry favors repealing much of Bush's tax cut, effectively raising taxes on everyone.

"Recent news our economy is rebounding is evidence that President Bush's economic policies are working," said Collins. "This is good news and farther proof the Democrat presidential candidates' calls for massive tax increases would only reverse this upward trend."