By CARL SMITH
U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper says not only does he understand many Americans’ frustration with Congress and its perceived inability to quickly act in the country’s best interest, he experiences it firsthand.
Harper, R-MS3, visited Starkville Tuesday and Wednesday while making various stops to speak with community and university constituents before the March 13 primary.
Many voters have approached Harper recently, he said, and expressed concerns about the growing gridlock in U.S. government. Harper said he knows this frustration all too well.
“It’s been an incredibly frustrating year this last year. We’ve had about 30 different bills we’ve passed out of the house — great bills that included dealing with oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill, EPA rules that could cripple business and trade issues — all designed to help us,” Harper said Wednesday. “Every single one of them is dead in the Senate and will never be brought up for vote by (Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV). You can’t even get easy things done.”
Harper used H.R. 3463 as an example of bills which were passed in the House and never fully addressed by the Senate. The Harper-sponsored bill would terminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF) and eliminated the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), a move he said would save taxpayers almost $500 million over five years and decrease the federal deficit by almost $200 million.
“(The) EAC came about after the Bush-Gore recount. This agency was designed to administer grants for voting machines in municipalities ... so we wouldn’t have another butterfly ballot situation. It was supposed to last three years, but nine years later it’s still going,” he said. “They’re the most worthless agency you can come across. They’ve been sued for political discrimination and discrimination with our military personnel.”
The bill passed Dec. 1 in the House by a 235-190 margin vote which closely followed party lines. One sole Republican joined House Democrats against the measure. According to Govtrack.us, the bill was received in the Senate on Dec. 5, read twice and referred to the Committee on Rules and Administration.
“It’s dead in the Senate,” Harper said. “If you can’t eliminate a program not being used (PECF) and an agency that is worthless, how do you ever stop anything? That’s the frustration when I say we need to understand how important the 2012 election cycle is.”
Congress’ stall highlights a division in competing philosophies between Democrats and Republicans, Harper says. While agreeing many issues should be non-partisan, Harper says he refuses to let go of his core beliefs on major issues such as spending, energy and national security.
“One party says raise taxes; the other says cut spending — those are pretty well-entrenched philosophies. There are some pundits who say you need to cut some spending, raise some taxes and compromise. You don’t do that when you got into this situation by letting spending go through the roof,” Harper said. “If you look at it, the economy can turn you around and naturally increase revenues; if you reduce spending, you can get it where (revenues and expenses) match back up. We’re in a mess, and everyone knows we’re in a mess ... In Mississippi, we know that if you’ve dug yourself into a hole then you quit digging.”
Addressing entitlement spending is the key to securing the nation’s financial future, Harper said.
“We’ve always been compassionate people in the U.S. We take care of people who cannot take care of themselves — that’s America; however, unemployment, for example, was designed to be a stopgap to keep families from going under between jobs. It has turned into a welfare program,” Harper said. “We’re better than that. America does things better than anybody else in the world. We have the best workers and the hardest working people. If we get back to remembering that, it would help the entire picture.”
As the presidential primary cycle continues, Harper said watching fellow Republicans fight tooth and nail down the stretch is a hard thing to stomach.
“It’s a circular firing squad, but we know what will happen at some point: the nominee will become obvious, and we’ll all hug and sing ‘Kumbaya,’” he said. “We’re losing sight of 2008 though; (Barack) Obama and (Hillary) Clinton were not settled until June of that year. I don’t think we’ll have a brokered convention because Super Tuesday (March 6 primaries) should give us a pretty good idea. If it doesn’t, it could be an exciting time because Mississippi might get more attention on March 13.”
Harper has yet to make an endorsement and stresses the importance of GOP victories in November.
“I think the political game is this: the more conservative you are, the more (able for nomination) you are; the broader the view, the more electable you are to Independents. Independents, however, do not select the nominee,” he said. “(Former Mass. Gov. Mitt) Romney has been more constant (over the primary season) — maybe a little boring, but constant. Then you’ve had the flavor of the week go up, wither and then go back down. We’ll see how (former Pa. Sen. Rick) Santorum weathers the storm.”