U.S. House 'not as messed up as you might think,' Gary Palmer says
The debate over leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives may make Washington look like a messed-up place, but “it’s not as messed up as you might think,” U.S. Rep. Gary Palmer told the Hoover Area Chamber of Commerce today.
Palmer, a resident of Hoover, was speaking to about 190 people at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham – The Wynfrey Hotel.
“It looks like absolute chaos” in Washington, Palmer said. “It looks like we can’t get along.”
But as Republicans grapple over who will become the next Speaker of the House following the resignation of John Boehner, R-Ohio, the debate is not about personalities or even policy, Palmer said. It’s about process.
A group of conservatives called the Freedom Caucus has been pushing for the House to change its rules back to what they call “regular order,” decentralizing power from the hands of a few to the rank-and-file House members.
That involves bills originating with House members in committees and working their way up to the main floor, where the full House can debate the merits of bills and offer amendments on the House floor.
That’s the way it’s supposed to work, but “that’s not what’s been happening,” Palmer said.
Instead, bills are being written by special interest groups, and the House has been voting to limit debate to a minimum and providing no opportunity for amendments on the House floor, he said. With limited debate, Congressmen are not able to fully understand the implications of proposed bills and are in some cases voting on bills they have not been able to read, he said. “We’ve got to stop this.”
The proposed “regular order” of doing business slows the process down, but it puts power back in the hands of rank-and-file representatives, Palmer said. Congress is divided in such a way that each member of the House represents the same number of people and should come to the table with equal footing, he said.
A good number of Democrats privately express the same feeling but aren’t always willing to say so publicly, Palmer said. “They want to serve their constituents,” he said.
Members of the House conference and policy committees are getting together to work out rule changes so that whomever becomes the next House speaker won’t have to deal with it, Palmer said.
Despite what some people may say, “we’ve got some good folks in Washington,” Palmer said. “There are some incredibly bright people that people around the country have sent to Washington.”
They're working on some key issues, such as balancing the budget, opening up foreign markets to U.S. oil and reducing government regulations, he said.
Balancing the budget
This year, for the first time in six to eight years, Congress passed a budget that would bring the budget in balance in nine years and provide for a surplus in the 10th year, said Palmer, who serves on the House budget committee.
The budget is the most critical issue that Congress faces right now, he said.
If the federal government continued on the same path where it has been, it would be paying more than $850 billion in interest in 10 years, Palmer said. “We’re setting ourselves on a path to get our fiscal path in order and secure the future of this country,” he said.
Opening up new markets for U.S. oil
The House this past Friday also took a significant step with U.S. energy policy, voting to repeal a 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil, Palmer said.
“We’re the only nation in the world with a self-imposed ban on exporting crude oil,” he said.
That’s despite the fact that there are 3 trillion barrels of untapped oil reserves in the western U.S. – more oil than the entire world has ever consumed, oil industry leaders say.
If the United States could begin exporting that oil, it could bring in $29 billion in new government revenues next year and $1.3 trillion over 15 years, and create more than 960,000 jobs, Palmer said.
“It’s a very significant boost to our economy,” he said.
It also would have a huge geopolitical impact in a world where Russia is now the dominant power in the Middle East, Palmer said. Russia has long had a strong relationship with Syria and now has gained a formal alliance with Iran and is gaining influence in Iraq, he said.
Europe gets 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia, and if U.S. companies were allowed to sell oil and liquified natural gas to Europe, “I think they’d buy everything we can sell them,” Palmer said.
The export bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.
Palmer said another issue he is pushing is regulatory reform. Government regulations cost the U.S. economy more than $2 trillion last year, which is more than $15,000 per household, he said. That has a disproportionate impact on families with low and fixed incomes, he said.
Plus, “it’s a drain on the economy. It only suppresses revenue,” Palmer said. “We have got to take this on. It’s having an increasing negative impact on our economy.”
In 2008, there were 100,000 more new companies forming than closing, and last year, there were 70,000 more companies closing than opening, Palmer said. The United States ranks 12th in the world in the number of new businesses, he said.
“The single biggest reason people are not expanding businesses or starting businesses is the regulatory environment,” Palmer said.
He is talking with other Congressmen about forming small task forces to address different areas of regulations. They want to bring in the regulators to help identify and get rid of obsolete and duplicate regulations and simplify those that need to stay, he said.
“There’s not a person in here that runs a business that runs it legally,” Palmer said. Regulations are so complex that even the regulators can’t agree on what they say, he said.
If the federal government could reduce regulatory costs by 20 percent, that would put more than $400 million a year back into the economy, Palmer said.
Palmer said he also is co-sponsoring a bill that should be introduced in the next couple of weeks that calls for a consumption tax for businesses. It actually lowers the tax rate but increases revenues to the federal government, he said.
The federal government now only collects about 84 percent of taxes owed, Palmer said. That other 16 percent would have brought in $550 billion to $570 billion last year, he said. “That wipes out the deficit.”
The IRS says the cost of collecting the other taxes exceeds what would be collected because the IRS pursues violations with criminal penalties rather than civil penalties, Palmer said. He believes the government ought to change the tax code and go to a flat tax or consumption tax, he said.
Businesses in the United States spend $500 billion on tax compliance, Palmer said. If that could be reduced by 20 percent, it would mean another $100 billion going back into the economy, he said.