Rep. Ralph Hall represents the Fourth Congressional District of Texas, which straddles the Oklahoma and Arkansas borders northeast of Dallas. In more than six decades of public service, he also has been a county judge, a Texas state senator and a Navy pilot during World War II, when he served on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. In 2004, Mr. Hall switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party, explaining, ''I'm not comfortable in the caucus with them running down a president [George W. Bush] that I've known since he was 11." He currently is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. You can find out more about the congressman's work at ralphhall.house.gov.
Decker: Your committee is holding a hearing on June 28 about the purported use of subpar science at the Environmental Protection Agency. What actions has the agency taken that concern you?
Hall: All too often, this administration has used flawed, outcome-driven and sometimes secret science to justify an out-of-control regulatory agenda that raises energy costs and threatens jobs across the country. The president and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson have pursued anti-fossil-fuel policies that contradict their all-of-the-above energy rhetoric. Whether it is multibillion-dollar air-quality regulations based on black-box models and secret data, rushing to judgment in groundwater investigations related to hydraulic fracturing, or running a chemical risk-assessment program that has been repeatedly criticized by the National Academy of Sciences and the Government Accountability Office, this EPA frequently puts its political cart before the scientific horse.
Despite Administrator Jackson's frequent claims that "science is the backbone" of all EPA activities, even the courts have begun to question the agency's regulatory science, recently repudiating EPA's "cavalier and unscientific attitude." The agency ignores the significant progress made in the environment and public-health areas in recent years and resorts to torturing data in order to justify more stringent and costly emissions standards.
Decker: Federal rules and regulations foisted on the public add untold expense to businesses and families, but there's a sense that bureaucratic intervention frequently is based on secret data and hidden information. How transparent is the EPA's regulatory process? Isn't the science open to peer review?
Hall: A significant gulf exists between the agency's rhetoric and action on transparency. For example, my state of Texas was added into the inherently flawed and job-killing Cross-State Air Pollution Rule at the last minute, without public comment, and solely on the basis of projections from a proprietary, black-box computer model. The agency's own inspector general recently pointed out that EPA failed to follow its own peer-review process in making the scientific determination that underlies the onslaught of recent global warming regulations.
Even when EPA subjects its science to peer review, the agency often stacks the deck of supposedly independent advisory panels by including members who are EPA grant recipients. Further, witnesses have testified to the Science Committee that the primary data used to justify most major EPA air regulations remains secret and unavailable to open scientific scrutiny. Rather than hiding data and information related to EPA's scientific and technical justifications and recklessly pursuing new rules and regulations, the EPA should do its homework and carefully consider the impact of regulation and be honest with the American people about the science.
Decker: The George W. Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire in December, which will dramatically increase the cost of government on already suffering taxpayers. What needs to be done to lift the tax burden on hardworking Americans?
Hall: This administration seems to believe that the American people are going to continue to tolerate out-of-control spending and the higher taxes that will be needed to pay the bills. While tax reform is necessary, the underlying problem is spending. President Obama wants to increase the size of government and raise taxes, while I support less government and more individual freedom. I support both a Fair Tax and a Flat Tax plan that would dramatically streamline the tax system. A Fair Tax would replace all federal taxes on personal and corporate income with a single national tax on retail sales, while a Flat Tax would apply the same tax rate to all income with few if any deductions or exemptions. However, I would retain at least two deductions: one for home mortgages and the other for charitable giving. I will also push to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to promote job growth and simultaneously continue to work to systematically cut spending.
Decker: It used to be said that, "The business of America is business." Now, we have a worse corporate tax rate than Europe and businesses are strangled by miles of new red tape every year. I have had many job creators tell me that if they had to do it all over again today, that starting their own company would no longer be worth all the hassle, harassment and heartache. What are the most damaging government hindrances to entrepreneurs today and what can be done to make the U.S. business climate competitive again?
Hall: As policymakers, we need to foster an environment that allows U.S.-based innovators and entrepreneurs to compete and to flourish. Excessive regulations and bureaucratic red tape dramatically increase the cost of doing business and create uncertainty for companies. In the first three years of the Obama administration, the federal government imposed 106 new major regulations with annual costs of more than $46 billion. As you said, the United States now has the highest marginal corporate income-tax rate in the industrialized world. These taxes make America less competitive and encourage companies to look abroad for a more favorable business environment.
Decreasing the corporate tax rates would help U.S. companies attract capital as well as encourage foreign companies to invest in the United States, creating both jobs and higher wages for American workers. While all of our major global competitors have been lowering their corporate tax rate, ours has been essentially unchanged for the past 20 years. There is a reason why Texas surpasses other states in attracting industry and investments. We have had for several years a governor and a business climate that help - not hinder - those who move there.
Decker: You were first sent to Congress in 1980, the same year Ronald Reagan was elected president. You are now the oldest member of Congress, at 89 years young. How has Washington changed in the 32 years since you came here?
Hall: When I first came to Washington, there was a stronger sense of camaraderie and teamwork. There's less reaching across the aisle in today's Congress, even between Republicans and Democrats of the same state. President Obama's policies have created a bigger rift between Republicans and Democrats. Three years ago, when Democrats controlled the House of Representatives, Republicans couldn't even get permission from the Rules Committee to offer amendments to legislation. The president's health care bill totally divided us, and there was very little give on either side. We're now waiting on the Supreme Court's decision on this law.
When the House majority changed in 2010, the liberal press began pushing for Republicans to be more cooperative and work with Democrats who refused to work with us. Because of my background [as a former Democrat who switched parties to become a Republican], there are Democrats on the other side of the aisle with whom I have maintained a positive relationship and am comfortable talking with about a bill, but my first priority is always representing my constituents.
Brett M. Decker is editorial page editor of The Washington Times and coauthor of the book "Bowing to Beijing" (Regnery, 2011).
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