(March 29, 2013) In a comprehensive interview, Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st) discussed the impact federal action could have on the Lower Eastern Shore and what he plans to do to protect and promote the interests of this region in Congress.
Harris discussed his plans for using his new role as a member of the House Appropriations Committee to ensure oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal policies that could negatively affect agriculture, the poultry industry, and tourism. He also offered his views on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.”
Bayside Gazette: What can or should Lower Eastern Shore residents expect from Congress this year? What type of legislation do you think will have a direct impact on this area?
Rep. Andy Harris: Specifically for Lower Eastern Shore residents, I will work to sustain and expand Wallops Space Flight Facility, defend sportsmen and Second Amendment rights, and work to improve the science at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for fisheries management. Also, the regulations on poultry farms and other agribusiness is something I have been following closely. I was concerned by the politically motivated regulations that came out of the Environmental Protection Agency during President Obama’s first term that were not based on sound science.
Furthermore, I introduced a bill this past week that would protect farmers and small businesses from an arcane banking law against something called structuring. Current law prevents an individual from making repeated cash deposits under $10,000 to get around the paper work one needs to file if making deposits over $10,000.
Recently, there was a family on the Eastern Shore who had no idea this was a law and had their assets seized by the IRS.
The Small Business Deposit Relief Act of 2013 (H.R. 1184) would limit any criminal and civil penalties for structuring when there is no other crime being committed. It also includes no jail time for first-time offenders and limits the amount that can be seized to no more than 10 percent of the cash deposits in question.
Bayside Gazette: As one of the newest members of the House Appropriations Committee, is there some way to ensure that any job creation targeted for this area could extend beyond tourism or corrections? Is there some way to push for manufacturing opportunities here on the Shore?
Rep. Andy Harris: As a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, I have a role in oversight of how Maryland taxpayer dollars are being spent. One of the things I’m concerned about is how the EPA is using its resources and regulating industry, especially agriculture and poultry. I will keep a watch on them to make sure their actions are based on sound science, not political motivations.
With regard to manufacturing opportunities on the Shore, we need to reform the tax code and lower the corporate tax rate to make it more attractive for businesses to come to the United States. Unfortunately, Maryland has some of the highest taxes in the country, causing businesses to close or relocate in neighboring states like Delaware and Virginia. There is not a tax increase that Gov.
O’Malley does not like, but, at least at the federal level, I will push for a more competitive tax system that grows jobs here in the United States.
The Lower Shore is a great place to live and work. I regularly meet with local busi-
ness leaders to listen to what they need to hire more workers. As I have traveled on the Shore, businessmen tell me that two things are hindering them from hiring more workers – burdensome government regulations and Maryland’s high tax environment. I am working at the federal level to hold the Obama administration accountable for burdensome bureaucratic regulations that are killing jobs.
As a member of Congress, I cannot stop Gov. O’Malley and the legislators in Annapolis from increasing taxes, which is killing job growth. I have also been actively involved with Wallops, which has the potential, as it grows, to bring high-paying quality jobs to the Shore.
Bayside Gazette: With your appropriations Committee appointment and Sen. Barbara Mikulski’s (D) appointment as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Maryland has two key players in place in the congressional appropriations process. Will this present an opportunity for bicameral proposals that could benefit the Lower Eastern Shore? If so what might those proposals be?
Rep. Andy Harris: My appointment to the House Committee on Appropriations means that for the first time in over 30 years a member of Congress from the Eastern Shore will have a voice on this powerful committee. I look forward to working with Sen. Mikulski for the good of the Lower Shore on issues affecting agriculture, the poultry industry, and the tourism industry. One example is making sure that the EPA does not harm our farmers through over-regulation.
Bayside Gazette: As a medical practitioner, how do you anticipate the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014 affecting the lower shore? Given the heavy retiree population in Worcester County, do you think the expansion of Medicare participants will affect services (i.e. elder health conditions such as joint replacement and chronic illnesses, cancer, heart and diabetes)?
Rep. Andy Harris: Medicaid (healthcare for the poor) is expanded, but Medicare (healthcare for the elderly) is actually cut by $716 billion under the Affordable Care Act. I am very worried about the negative impact numerous parts of the Affordable Care Act will have on seniors.
The Independent Payment Advisory Board, a board of 15 unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats whose sole purpose is cutting Medicare spending will lead to a decrease in access for seniors to the physician of their choice. In addition, it has the power to restrict treatment options and limit medical innovation for diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. The Affordable Care Act is bad for Maryland and especially for seniors.
In addition, I am worried about how the Affordable Care Act will affect everyone’s, not just seniors’, healthcare on the Eastern Shore. Everywhere I go, I hear about family insurance premiums that are going through the roof.
Young adults are having a particularly hard time affording plans, with some seeing premium increases in excess of 20 percent already. Some businesses are already having to drop healthcare coverage, lay off workers, and convert full-time jobs to part-time jobs to avoid penalties because of the dramatic cost increases.
Bayside Gazette: Do you think that Maryland is making the right move in going full steam ahead with its state health exchange? Will we be better off than places like, say, Virginia, which were leaving it up to the federal government?
Rep. Andy Harris: Whether or not to operate a state health exchange or have the federal government operate it is a decision that rests solely with the governor. I believe the Affordable Care Act is the wrong way to reform our healthcare system.
I support a plan that is patient-centered and would implement more free market reforms to the system to allow for greater competition instead of government control. Despite initial claims, we now know that the implementation of the law will now cost more than $2 trillion, something our nation just cannot afford. Healthcare insurance costs will rise under the Maryland exchange and become unaffordable for many.
Bayside Gazette: The undercurrent in the debate over Second Amendment rights/gun violence curbs seems more like an urban versus rural issue, but it is an emotionally charged one, which recently seems to suggest that there must always be a congressional response. What will you do to educate your colleagues, when other emotional issues prompt Congress to propose one-size-fits all types of legislation in response to current or tragic events that what works in the city might not be as practical for rural communities?
Rep. Andy Harris: I held a town hall in Ocean City recently so I could have a conversation with people in the area about the issue. The turnout was great and I think it was very productive. As I said at the meeting, the issue of gun violence is complicated.
I’m a father of five so my heart goes out to the families of Newtown and all the families and friends who know someone who has been a victim of gun violence. During this debate, I worry that the discussion about making our kids safer focuses too much on passing more laws surrounding guns and not enough about dealing with the root of the problem – enforcing the laws already on the books and helping those with mental illness.
It is more important that we get this issue right, than try and do it fast or install a one-size-fits-all approach. Our Second Amendment rights are important and need to be protected.
Bayside Gazette: Will you look at appropriations for roads/bridges in our region, such as completion of Route 113, widening of Route 589 and monies for any of the bridges that need repair in our region?
Rep. Andy Harris: The House and Senate have banned earmarks from bills so money cannot be directly targeted to specific projects by a member of Congress. I agree with that ban on earmarks. When agencies look at how to spend the money we appropriate to them, I will urge them to make projects like those mentioned priorities, but the final decision will be made by the state.
Bayside Gazette: What will sequestration mean for the Eastern Shore? Will there be any impact on the Coastal Bays Program, Assateague Island or shore replenishment?
Rep. Andy Harris: From the very beginning, I was against the President’s sequester. I think it’s a bad way to try and get out-of-control spending under control because an across-the-board cut does not force the government to prioritize what’s important or determine what is efficient and what is not. That’s why I initially voted against the sequester and after it was law, I voted for two replacement plans that were smarter cuts of the same size.
With regard to the impact on those three programs, the reality is that the sequester cuts less than 2 percent of the budget. At the beginning of this year, hardworking families across the Shore saw their incomes decrease because of the 2 percent payroll tax hike. I think government can cut at least that much without serious compromise to any federal program including those three.
The Washington Post recently confirmed that claims about the sequester cutting vaccines for children was misleading – something I exposed in a discussion with the director of the Centers for Disease Control at an Appropriations Committee hearing.
A video of the exchange can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=cKbMhr-cfh8.
Bayside Gazette: Do you anticipate additional stormwater management proposals this year?
Rep. Andy Harris: I’m not aware of any additional proposals at the federal level — legislation or otherwise — to deal with stormwater management.