Last week U. S. Representative Mike Pompeo of Wichita addressed members and guests of the Wichita Pachyderm Club. As might be expected, major topics that members were interested in were the economy and budget issues.
As an introduction, club vice-president John Todd played a video of a recent meeting of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight where Pompeo interrogated a Department of Energy official concerning the loan guarantee made on behalf of Solyndra, a company that has ceased operations and filed for bankruptcy. That video may be viewed here.
In his brief opening remarks, Pompeo described the Solyndra matter as just one example of the problems inherent when government — of either party, he added — tries to allocate capital. He described this problem as pervasive, existing throughout all areas of government.
Pompeo said that President Obama’s policies are simply wrong and have been a disaster. He said the current Congress has made progress in stopping the worst of what the president wants to do.
In response to a question, Pompeo said that while the House has been busy passing legislation, the Senate has not. The Senate has not passed a budget for three years.
I asked a question about federal grants: If local governments refuse federal grants, could legislation already introduced by Pompeo be expanded so that all returned grant funds would be used for deficit reduction, rather than being spent by someone else? This is an important issue, as many officeholders rationalize the acceptance of grants by arguing that someone else will spend the money, and it’s our tax money.
Pompeo said that anytime money from Kansas is returned to Washington, he will move to make sure it is used for deficit reduction, and not to go someplace else. He said these decisions are difficult ones for local officials.
Pompeo said that citizens would “fall off their chair” to learn of the huge magnitude of grant monies that flow from Washington. Each grant comes with restrictions on the use of the funds. He mentioned the Economic Development Administration, an agency which has a budget of over $400 million per year in earmarks.
On federal spending, Pompeo said that we think we’ve done good when we reduce the rate of growth of spending by an agency from eight percent to three percent. While it is possible to gain support for cutting grants and spending on projects in other Congressional districts, Congressmen soon find out that their constituents have benefited from federal spending programs. Support for cutting programs then fades.
But he said that the idea of giving back grant funds for deficit reduction is an idea that might catch on. It’s an idea that is discussed everywhere, he said. The problem lies in Washington, in that the programs exist.
On the need for tax reform, Pompeo said there is broad consensus that it is necessary. But it may not happen very quickly, especially under the current president. Tax reform under Obama, he said, would likely result in higher taxes. But when we tackle tax reform, he said everything will be impacted.
On energy policy, he reiterated his position that government should not be trying to select which form of energy will succeed. He also repeated his opposition to the NAT GAS Act, formally known as H.R. 1380: New Alternative Transportation to Give Americans Solutions Act of 2011, which would provide subsidies to use natural gas as a transportation fuel. If natural gas is destined to be a transportation fuel, the industry will be able to figure out how to make it work, he added.
He declined to name who he favors among the Republican presidential candidates, but he implored the audience to work hard for the eventual nominee, saying we can’t tolerate four more years of the current president.
On foreign trade, Pompeo said we need more trade, not less. On jobs lost to foreign producers, he said it is the federal government that has created policies that make investment more effective in foreign countries, and we should not fault companies for responding these policies and the realities of the global marketplace. He said that the Kansas fourth congressional district is the third most trade-dependent district in the country, with airplanes and agricultural products being the reason. “We are enormous beneficiaries of foreign trade,” he said.
Pompeo explained his vote for raising the debt ceiling as realizing the necessity to pay the bills for money we had already spent. Once that was realized, the goal was to get the best deal possible. The two best things that emerged, he said, was the fact that there was no tax increase, and that there will be a vote on a balanced budget amendment in both the House and Senate before the end of the year.
He mentioned that the budget plan developed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan will take 20 years to balance the budget, and will require raising the debt ceiling seven times by then. Ryan also voted to raise the debt ceiling.
The votes this summer affected discretionary spending, when it is entitlements that are the “true elephant in the room.” Pompeo said we must tackle the problems of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.