"How do you budget for something you don't know?" Sullivan asked. "You can't. The easiest thing to do for a guy who doesn't know what to do is to not do anything different."
That means not hiring. Sullivan, for one, said he's not budging off his 20-employee workforce, although not solely because of the uncertainty over taxes. There is also the matter of the economy. His business has been off since the recession and demand hasn't fully returned.
Metro Atlanta accountants who work with business clients said they are receiving plenty of calls for guidance. Generally, they say they have been advising that owners take a wait-and-see approach.
Small business owners stand to be affected by any tax changes. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, three-quarters of businesses are organized as pass-through entities. That means that they pay taxes on their business income at individual tax rates, said L. Eddie Brown, owner of Brown Enterprises, an accounting, tax and financial services firm in Fayetteville.
Not everyone supports an extension of the current tax cuts for higher income individuals, nor is there a consensus that an extension of the lower tax rates would result in businesses adding employees.
Extending the tax cuts to even the top brackets would add billions or even a trillion dollars in deficits to the ballooning national debt.
Critics also say the number of business owners who would be affected if the tax cuts are not extended to the top brackets is relatively minor. Exactly how many would be affected is difficult to determine. Not all taxpayers who report receiving small business income run what are generally considered to be small businesses, such as small factories and shops.
The Congressional Budget Office in a January 2010 report said, "Increasing the after-tax income of businesses typically does not create much incentive for them to hire more workers in order to produce more, because production depends principally on their ability to sell their products."
There is also a possibility that even if Congress stalemates on the issue, the IRS has the flexibility to leave current tax rates as they are, assuming the issue will be settled when Congress reconvenes next year.
But business owners like Sullivan say the problem is a real one.
"It's taking away from what you could do," he said. "You're almost afraid to hire people."