Portland, Maine (CNN) - President Barack Obama sought to reassure jittery small-business owners Thursday that they stand to benefit from the recently enacted health care law - an assertion not universally shared by a traditionally Republican-leaning constituency.
The president took his pro-reform message to Maine, a politically friendly state he carried by nearly 20 points in the 2008 general election. While in New England, he also planned to make a quick stop in Massachusetts for a couple of Democratic National Committee fundraisers.
Democrats are celebrating the enactment of the landmark $940 billion measure, but the country as a whole remains sharply divided over its merits. Conservatives insist it will do little to slow spiraling costs and say
businesses will be burdened by a slew of new regulations and taxes.
The president sought to rebut that argument Thursday, in part by highlighting a tax credit designed to help small businesses provide coverage for their employees.
"This health care tax credit is pro-jobs, it's pro-business, and it starts this year," Obama said.
"For small-business owners who don't currently provide health insurance, they'll be able to factor in this new benefit in deciding whether to do so. And with that savings, employers may be able to cover an additional worker or hire that extra employee they've needed."
Under the new health care law, small businesses are immediately eligible for a tax credit covering 35 percent of the premiums paid to help cover their workers. The credit is set to expand to 50 percent of premium costs in 2014. Firms can claim the credit between 2010 and 2013, and for any two years afterward.
In order to qualify for the credit, a company needs to have fewer than the equivalent of 25 full-time workers, according to the administration. It must also pay average annual wages under $50,000 and cover at least 50 percent of its workers' health care coverage.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers has said that roughly 4 million small businesses are eligible for the credit if they provide health insurance. The Internal Revenue Service plans to send postcards to millions of small businesses potentially eligible for the credit, urging them to take advantage of it.
Before discussing the merits of the law, Obama took a swipe at political opponents who predicted a catastrophe if it was enacted.
Over the past year, "there has been plenty of fear-mongering and overheated rhetoric" about the health care law, Obama said. Now, "those same folks are still shouting about how the world will end because we passed this bill. ... They say it's the end of freedom as we know it."
"So after I signed the bill, I looked up to see if there were any asteroids headed our way. I looked at the ground to see if cracks had opened up in the earth. It turned out to be a pretty nice day. ... Nobody had pulled the plug on Granny. Nobody was being dragged away to be forced into some government plan."
Obama also dismissed polls showing the country's continued sharp divide on the issue.
"It's only been a week" since the bill was signed into law, he said. "Before we find out if people like health care reform, we should wait to see what happens when we actually put it into place. Just a thought."
Updated: 4:21 p.m.