By Cynthia E. Griffin

While the ripples caused by Vermont Sen. James Jeffords' move from the Republican Party into the Independent camp continue reverberating throughout the Senate, not long after his announcement, it was back to business on Capitol Hill—with a new skipper at the helm of the Senate Small Business Committee. In an interview shortly after John F. Kerry took the committee's reins, the two-term Massachusetts senator and former entrepreneur said energy and environmental regulations impacting entrepreneurs are among the first issues he expects to tackle.

"Right out of the gate, I will hold a hearing on the relationship of small businesses to environmental regulation to diffuse the mystery about it and to try to figure out where big-company rules—when applied to small entities—don't fit," says Kerry, who owned a cookie and muffin stall in Boston's historic Quincy Market for four years. "I also want to hold a hearing on the energy crisis, and focus on how we can provide real relief for small businesses and [put them] in the driver's seat behind the technological innovations that will help us define a new energy for the nation in the future."

Kerry says he wants to "resist the temptation to pigeonhole a few issues as 'small-business issues.' The truth is, when I talk to small-business owners, I hear as much about energy, health care, taxes, the environment and regulations as I do from the owners of large businesses or their employees. The only difference is that these issues hit small businesses even harder. That's why I would also like to broaden the scope of the [committee] and deal with issues that, although they affect small-business owners, too often fall into the realm of other committees." That expanded scope is reflected in Kerry's proposed resolution, which the Senate was considering at press time, to change the panel's name to the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.