Nov. 17, 2005--With a perfect storm of rising interest rates, energy prices, and health care costs, the health of the nation's small-business climate is at an eight-year low, according to Congressional Democrats.

Combined with the impact of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma, these conditions have "hindered the ability of entrepreneurs across the country to start and grow their businesses," Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.) said in statement.

The third-quarter Small Business Index, released Tuesday by Democrats on the House Small Business Committee, slipped to an eight-year low of 69.99, down two points from the previous quarter.

The index gauges the small-business climate by measuring 17 key economic indicators, including health care, energy, and retirement costs.

"The reality is that for the past few years our economy has been in a constant state of flux," said Velazquez, the ranking member on the committee. "With the convergence of all these negative conditions today, entrepreneurs simply don't believe that the current risks in the economy will provide sufficient rewards for their efforts."

Velazquez, who has attacked federal recovery efforts following Hurricane Katrina, called on the Bush administration to create energy and health care plans, as well as tax incentives, that "truly empower small firms to stimulate growth and create jobs."

The committee's report stands in stark contrast to rosier assessments in recent weeks from both public and private agencies, including the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents some 600,000 small-businesses nationwide.