Harper says health care plans scary

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

National health care reform, cap and trade and big spending areall matters 3rd Congressional District Congressman Gregg Harperfights against every day.

But as a member of the House minority, the first eight months ofhis career in Washington, D.C., have seen him and his fellowRepublicans take a beating as Democrats seemingly act at will.

“I wake up mad every morning, then I go to work,” Harper saidTuesday during a visit with The DAILY LEADER editorial board. “I’mreally disgusted at the lack of respect for how we spend taxdollars in Washington. If you really want to control spending, thefirst step is to say, ‘Let’s not spend more than we’ve beenspending.'”

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Harper, one of 178 House Republicans who daily square offagainst more than 250 Democrats, said Republicans are powerless toact with new legislation. So he’s spent the last few daystraversing 17 Mississippi counties, speaking to everyone from dairyfarmers to elected officials.

He’s attended TEA parties and held his own town hall meetingsacross the state to preach against House Resolution 3200, anapproximately 1,100-page bill that is the vehicle for PresidentBarack Obama’s health care reform.

“Our town halls aren’t going like the ones you see on TV, Ithink we’ve been cheated. Nobody’s screaming at us, hollering at us- we got a standing ovation,” Harper said. “The response we’rehaving is a very positive response. People are saying, ‘Keepfighting.'”

Harper said Mississippians are not only worried about thepossibility of HR 3200 passing, but scared. One of the chiefcomplaints he hears about the estimated multi-year, multi-trillionlegislation is its impact on the national economy and debt, hesaid.

“Not only do we have a shaky economy, this would make it worse,”Harper said. “The health care bill is going to push unfundedmandates to the states.”

Under the current proposal, Harper said Mississippi’s unfundedmandate would be $297 million per year.

“We just got through having about three special sessions inMississippi to deal with $90 million,” Harpers said in reference toa Medicaid funding shortfall. “Can you imagine $297 million?”

Another of Harper’s concerns about HR 3200 is itsunpredictability. The bill is incredibly long and complex, he said,and several other committees are planning hundreds of pages worthof amendments that could be added to the formula at any time.

Despite recent rebuttals by Democrats and the national media,Harper still worries about exactly what the bill might mandate.

“End of life counseling? Government funding for abortions? Theysay that stuff isn’t in the bill. Well, that’s true – it’s not inthere, but we don’t know if it’s excluded,” he said. “If fundingfor abortions is not in the bill, why do we have Democrats who ninetimes this year have voted down amendments that would have nailedthat down?”

Also vexing Harper is the plan’s proposal for a public option -a government-run insurance provider that would be established tocompete with private companies in an effort to keep insurance costsdown. Although Obama has said the public option would not bedesigned to put private carriers out of business, Harper is afraidskillful wordplay on behalf of Obama and his party would create asystem that does just that.

Harper said HR 3200 stipulates that businesses with a payroll of$500,000 or more must carry a government-approved provider. Harperis afraid government penalties for refusing said provider will beso stiff that Americans are forced to choose the public option.

“They say if you like your plan you can keep it, but lookthrough those 1,100 pages and tell me where you’re assured ofthat,” he said.

Instead of the massive healthcare reform bill, Harper suggestedthe rules concerning health insurance be relaxed and Americans beallowed to purchase and maintain insurance policies across statelines. He said such a move would spur competition in the insurancemarketplace and drive down costs.

“Let’s turn the dollars loose,” he said. “I think the best dealis you have your insurance, and you take it to your hospital.”

The congressman also criticized the cap and trade bill, which hesaid Republicans have taken to calling “cap and tax.” Harper saidit would drive fuel prices in America so high that importantindustries would be forced to close down and relocate to anothercountry.

He also voiced frustration over the administration’s handling ofaffairs in Iran, where a potentially unfair election in June keptanti-western President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power and led to thesuppression of the opposing political party.

Just as concerning, Harper said, was Obama’s soft response toNorth Korea, which continues to test fire ballistic missiles and inApril detonated its second nuclear bomb. Two months later, Obamaslashed $1.2 billion out of the defense budget that would havefunded missile defense.

“He hasn’t shown the military backbone yet, and I hope he does,”Harper said. “We have to have a group of leaders who play chess,not checkers. Chess players think ahead.”

Harper said he derives hope from Obama’s most recent approvalratings, which having been dropping. While the president’s earlierwishes have been carried out by a willing Congress, the debate overhealth care reform has brought the administration’s agenda to astandstill.

“Republicans have an excellent chance to take back the Housenext year,” Harper said of the 2010 mid-term elections. “Things arejust that bad. The only thing that has stopped it from gettingworse at this point is regular people, standing up.”