Fact checking small business talk at the Republican convention

August 31, 2012: 4:15 PM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Small business played a major role during the Republican convention this week.

Nearly every speaker at the convention in Tampa, Fla., had something to say about companies and how much they've suffered during the past four years, particularly small ones. All focused their aim at President Obama.

But were their points true?

On regulation: John Thune, a U.S. Senator from South Dakota, criticized the president for using big government to meddle with the rural way of life.

"Instead of preserving family farms and ranches, President Obama's policies are effectively regulating them out of business. His administration even proposed banning farm kids from doing basic chores," he said.

It's true, the Labor Department did make that proposal last year. Federal officials sought to outlaw having kids younger than 16 engage in activity deemed dangerous, such as driving tractors or handling pesticides. That riled up farmers, to whom having a young teen maneuver a tractor is an everyday chore. Taking part in farm work is also seen as a way to pass along the craft to the next generation.

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There are dangers to that, though, and labor officials were looking at statistics that some may find surprising. More kids get hurt working agricultural jobs than any other. Those jobs claimed the lives of 200 kids between 1992 and 1998, according to the most recent report from the Labor Department.

Labor officials backed away from the proposal in April, citing a respect for "the rural way of life" and instead promising to rely on educational programs to reduce the number of accidents.

As for Thune's other criticism, it's a stretch to say the president's policies are destroying family farms. Census data shows that as of 2010, the number of farms is actually up slightly to 2.2 million.

Also, the Obama administration has instituted specific programs to help farmers through the Agriculture Department in a "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" campaign. The program tries to connect consumers with producers, offering an online map to find things like local farmers markets.

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On (even more) regulation: Sher Valenzuela, who's running for lieutenant governor of Delaware, had this to say about government pressures on businesses.

"They're on track to create 109 million new paperwork burden hours, and by year's end, $110 billion worth of new regulatory costs will be laid on the back of business owners and taxpayers," she said.

Her speech, prepared by convention staff, relied on statistics compiled by the Republican-led American Action Forum. The group's director of regulatory policy, Sam Batkins, said they keep track of all new paperwork by relying on government announcements.

It's worth putting these 109 million hours into perspective. In 2010, Americans spent 8.8 billion hours filing federal paperwork for their businesses or in their personal lives, according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. That's about 37 hours a year for each adult. Adding 109 million hours through new regulations would tack on only another 1% to the total.

More importantly, though, the total number of hours has actually gone down sharply during the Obama administration. It rose from about 7 billion to nearly 10 billion during the Bush years. Obama ordered that agencies get "rid of absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money" and get more business-friendly.

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On "building that": House Speaker John Boehner and many others at the convention frequently repeated references to Obama's "you didn't build that" comment.

"So, President Obama, with all due respect, don't tell me that my parents didn't build their business," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to much applause.

Actually, the president didn't say that at all. It's a criticism based on a false premise that's been debunked various times by many, including CNN. To clarify, here's what the president stated during a July 13 speech.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges.

"If you've got a business -- you didn't build that," he continued. "Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together."

When put into context, it's clear Obama was referring to infrastructure and society's role in every person's successes.

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