Rep. Andy Harris Tele-chats; Blasts Delay on W. MD Gas Drilling
Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st), chatting with constituents in a teleconference Wednesday, opposed state legislation that would delay a controversial gas drilling proposal for Western Maryland and suggested investment of some US government funds in foreign bonds, including those of China.
He also opposed raising the wage base on which Social Security taxes are assessed so as to make wealthier people pay more into the troubled retirement system. He said it would impose a costly burden on small businesses that would have to match employee’s contributions.
From throughout the 1st District, Harris fielded questions during the nearly one hour phone chat, at times sounding a bit like a talk radio host as he welcomed callers and responded to a broad range of questions. He was generally well informed on the issues raised by callers, which focused largely on energy, health care, and Social Security.
Cecil Times was contacted to participate in the teleconference.
Several callers cited rising gasoline prices to highlight their concerns over US energy policy and the need for American energy independence. An Eastern Shore caller, John, a Stevensville retiree, said he was “distraught” over the failure of the government to press ahead with oil drilling and other steps to lessen Americans’ dependence on foreign energy sources.
Harris cited his work on a House Natural Resources panel that is working on a plan to promote energy independence and increase development of domestic oil, gas and coal resources. He cited the natural gas reserves in the multi-state Marcellus shale area, which includes a section in Western Maryland, as “the largest natural gas reserve on the planet.”
He said he opposed a bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly that would delay extraction of the gas during a two year study period of the possible environmental damage that could be caused by a controversial resource extraction method know as “hydrofracking.”
“We can’t do a study for two years,” Harris said. “We need to do it yesterday.”
Responding to another caller, Harris emphasized that “we have to stop putting up roadblocks” to domestic energy exploration.
James, a caller from Baldwin, MD, questioned why Social Security taxes were not collected on all wage income, cutting off for higher-income earners making over about $106,000. He suggested making all wages subject to the payroll taxes to help shore up the system.
Harris disagreed, saying it would be “cutting off our nose to spite our face” because it would harm small business to have to pay the increased costs of the employer share of payroll taxes.
In a surprising twist, Harris then suggested that some government funds could be invested in foreign bonds and that the US could “buy bonds from China.” He noted that half of US government-issued bonds are now owned by foreign interests and foreign governments use US securities to stabilize their own portfolios.
Social Security trust funds, by law, can only be invested in interest-bearing US government bonds or notes as a way to ensure safety and stability.
Harris said the Social Security trust funds shouldn’t be “lent back to the government” because it only props up deficit spending by Washington.
Congress is currently in recess—or, as the “Members” call it, “district work period” —and Harris has been traveling around his district. He said he toured a number of Eastern Shore areas in recent days and was told by constituents working in agriculture and watermen that “the federal government is regulating them out of existence.”
Harris also has several community forums in the next few days, including a Friday meeting with constituents at the Bel Air town hall in Harford County.