Harper: Avoiding ‘fiscal cliff’ top congressional goal

Published 8:00 pm Friday, October 26, 2012

The next U.S. Congress will face a tangle of legislative proposals to forestall the “fiscal cliff” and deal with ongoing controversy over health care reform, said Mississippi 3rd District U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper.

     Harper is up for re-election on the Nov. 6 ballot. He faces the Reform Party’s John Pannell; a Democratic challenger withdrew from the race in September.

     Harper met with The DAILY LEADER editorial board this week and discussed the issues he’ll face if re-elected.

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     Prominent among these issues is the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a projected expiration of certain tax cuts at the end of 2012 and the onset of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts agreed to during last year’s debt-ceiling crisis.

     Much uncertainty still persists about the options the next Congress will face.

     “What happens between now and the end of the year depends on who wins,” said Harper, referring to the presidential race.

     Harper believes some sort of compromise is likely to forestall tax increases for a year, allowing more time to reach a more permanent, expansive solution.

     However, he criticized proposals by President Barack Obama to raise taxes on “those he perceives to be wealthy.”

     “To put an additional burden on these people in a soft economy is probably not a good idea,” the congressman said.

     Harper called Obama’s claim in the third presidential debate that sequestration (automatic spending cuts) will not happen a surprise.

     “If he’s re-elected, it will be hard to say, ‘I didn’t mean that,'” Harper said.

     Harper is confident Mitt Romney will win the White House and optimistic that Republicans will take the Senate and hold the House. In such a scenario, he believes “Obamacare” (the Affordable Care Act) could be repealed by the end of January.

     “It’s got all kinds of intended or unintended consequences that will be bad for health care,” Harper.

     Particularly, Harper believes “Obamacare” would leave the elderly vulnerable to rationing of health care.

     “I do believe it will hurt our seniors,” Harper said.

     Harper acknowledged some provisions of the health care reform law are popular, particularly regulations requiring insurance companies to cover those with pre-existing conditions. He also described provisions allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance longer “a good idea.”

     But the troubling provisions are yet to come, Harper said.

     “2014 is the train wreck year,” he said.

     Harper believes it’s essential to clear away “Obamacare” even if there’s no plan to replace it or address the problems it was meant to solve.

     “No law is better than a bad law,” Harper said.

     Harper wouldn’t say whether popular provisions of the health care reform could be retained following a repeal.

     When looking to address the country’s deficit, Harper emphasized that addressing major programs like Social Security and Medicaid will be mandatory.

     “We can cut defense and other discretionary spending, but mandatory entitlement spending will eat up the budget,” Harper said.

     Harper said doing nothing “is not an option” and pledged his willingness to consider any options.

     Touching on other issues, Harper criticized, as he has before, the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama. He cited what he sees as the EPA’s determination to stop hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique he believes could be essential to a revival of the Mississippi economy.

     “We’re optimistic that as we look at moving the economy of Mississippi forward, it will revolve around the energy sector,” Harper said.

     Specifically, Harper said new exploratory drilling using hydraulic fracturing in Southwest Mississippi could be a “game changer.”