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Magazine / Q&A

Pruning the Tax Code

Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo says that the market, not the government, should pick energy winners and losers.

Energized: Mike Pompeo(Chet Susslin)

photo of Amy Harder
June 2, 2011

Rep. Mike Pompeo is in the middle of a debate over energy subsidies. The freshman Republican from Kansas, a tax lawyer, has introduced a nonbinding sense of the House resolution to end “all subsidies aimed at specific energy technologies or fuels,” and he may introduce legislation if he can gather sufficient support. About 80 of his GOP colleagues, however, have signed on to the so-called NAT GAS Act, which would subsidize trucks powered by natural gas.

Pompeo represents the district where Koch Industries, the oil-and-gas giant whose owners are known for their contributions to conservative and tea party causes, is headquartered. Koch officials contributed nearly $80,000 to Pompeo’s successful run in 2010. Edited excerpts of his interview with National Journal follow.

NJ Do you think House Republicans will back your resolution?
POMPEO I didn’t come here to do symbolism. I came here to change policy, so I think the American people are looking for us to change the way we do business. I think part of that is a smaller, flatter, federal income-tax code with a lot fewer exceptions. And so, yeah, I think it’s something a conservative House of Representatives could gather steam behind. It’ll be a push; it’ll require education and a lot of talking [to] folks on my part, but I aim to do it.

 

NJ Why haven’t you introduced legislation to end the subsidies?
POMPEO I may. We’re working to make sure we can get the support we need. This isn’t about making noise. This is about effecting good policy; everything in its proper sequence.

NJ What about the growing  division between Republicans who support your effort and others, such as the 80 or so who signed on to the NAT GAS Act?
POMPEO I don’t see it as a growing feud. I don’t see it that way at all. I think folks are just learning and sorting their way through it.

NJ How do you respond to critics who say you’re being influenced by Koch Industries, given its owners’ contributions to your campaign?
POMPEO What do you think? I’d say [I’ve been] a small-government guy for an awful long time, and I’ll be a small-government guy when the good Lord calls me home. Koch Industries is an amazing business that has succeeded by building a product that customers love dearly. The folks who run Koch are very clear. They would love to have government just get out of the way and allow companies to compete, whether in their particular sectors or other sectors. They are true believers in small government.

NJ Did you consider any oil-and-gas tax breaks for elimination?
POMPEO [No.] Most of the things that the president has aimed at trying to exclude [affect] just a handful of companies. The president has sort of taken an inverse of my theory. The president has said, “Let’s use the tax code to punish folks that we don’t like.”

NJ You disagree with T. Boone Pickens’s plan to subsidize natural-gas-powered trucks. Do you support his general goal to wean America from foreign oil?
POMPEO It is absolutely the case that I would prefer that we did not consume as much oil from OPEC as we do today. That much, I absolutely believe.

NJ How will energy developers, such as those promoting these trucks, overcome high costs without federal support?
POMPEO They’ll make it on their own. I have great confidence. I came from that industry. I know these people. They’re really good at what they do. They have an affordable natural-gas product. People want their product. Go sell it. Build it out. Build the infrastructure. Convince the folks to build cars to perform on this fuel.

We’ve seen time and time again—how many years have we been providing federal taxpayer money for the wind industry? “If we just get one more handout, one more grant, one more tax subsidy, we’ll make it.” What you find is, you have to deliver a product that has value to the customer. When you do, and I think the wind community is getting much closer to that, customers will want it.

NJ Do you think the wind industry is getting closer to that point because the government has been subsidizing wind?
POMPEO No. That was before my time. I wish we had not done those, either. If I had been here, I would have voted against those. We are where we are. Just like golf, you play it where it lies. I can’t do anything about the past subsidies. That money has been spent. For folks in Washington to believe that they are smart enough to pick the next energy technology is, in my judgment, the height of arrogance. For me or any of my peers to pick energy-technology X as the solution to solving America’s energy problems is just a fool’s errand.

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