Republican Rep. Andy Harris held a town hall meeting at on Wednesday, March 23, 6-7 p.m.
I recorded the following notes during the meeting. Note that some statements made by the congressman and meeting participants have been abridged or summarized.
For the first 20 minutes, Harris spoke directly to the crowd of a few dozen people. He flipped through a PowerPoint presentation that focused on national debt issues.
"You've been misled by everyone in Washington about how bad the budget deficit is," he said.
Harris repeatedly used phrases like "spending spree" and "tidal wave of debt" to describe the nation's growing deficit.
On one slide of the presentation, he showed a graph of public debt, projecting an increase from $3.5 trillion to $5.5 trillion in the next 10 years.
"We're exactly where Greece was," he said, "The only difference is that Greece could get bailed out by the European Union."
He then discussed fears that holders of foreign debt, including China and Japan, could cripple the U.S. economy if they decide to cease investment.
He then began taking questions.
A meeting attendee asked Harris what he was planning to do about the debt problem.
He responded by outlining parts of the national budget that he believes need to be reigned in, namely entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. He said, "We need to cut spending...When your family's salary goes down, you cut spending."
Another person asked, "How are Republicans working to cut spending?"
He explained some differences between the current Republican-dominated House and the last Democratically-ruled House. After a lengthy attempt at stimulating the economy with increased spending, he said, the focus has shifted to spending less on a smaller budget.
"The last Congress did not approve a year-long budget. They left it for the next Congress to do," said Harris. "We pledged to America that we were going to cut $100 billion and restore the budget levels to that of 2008."
"We created a budget and the Senate voted against it," he said, adding that he believes that the president needs to lead the way toward approving a bipartisan budget and stop granting extensions.
A meeting attendee asked about the congressman's response to the president's recent actions in Libya.
He spoke briefly about his understanding of the current military situation in Libya, adding that the current military action was not approved or seriously discussed on the floor of Congress.
"I was a little surprised to wake up this weekend and find out that we launched 162 Tomahawk cruise missiles in Libya. I had heard nothing about it," he said. "I've been researching the War Powers Act. The president has to have a constitutional reason to do it and report back to Congress."
"I feel like the president's authority has been stretched in Libya. if it posed such an emergency, I find it hard to believe that the entire plan was drafted this weekend," Harris said.
The next participant asked a two-part question: First, she asked Harris about his views on the president's spending reduction plan. Second, she asked about Harris' plan to grow the economy?
Harris responded that he opposes the president's proposed spending reduction plan because it involves increasing taxes.
He quickly proceeded to answer the second question.
"That's an important question," he said.
Again, he focused on debt reduction, claiming that the economy would not be able to rise above a sluggish performance until the nation balanced its budget.
"The vast majority of the debt problem is something that we can't grow our way out of," Harris said. "The problem is that all of the borrowing is being swallowed up by the federal government. It's difficult to lend money to companies when you're lending it to the government."
His response shifted to the cost of government workers.
"A government job does not benefit the economy as much as a private sector job," he said.
He compared economic recovery to a three-legged stool. Political leaders need to decrease government spending, avoid raising taxes and reduce regulation, he said.
"Even communist China has realized that you can't keep taxing businesses. We have to lower taxes on job creators," Harris said. "All the businesses tell me: 'Regulations are strangling us.' "
He cited the example of a local electronic chip factory. It will cost the business $3 billion to invest in a new plant in Maryland, compared to $2 billion abroad. Regulations cause the increased cost of domestic investment, he said.
"Some regulations are good, but we need to reduce them," Harris said.
Another participant asked if he would propose a bill that limited all campaign donations to $1,000 or less and limited the amount of money allowed to flow from out-of-district donors.
While a question was asked, a woman in the front row began reading off a list of donors who contributed to Harris' campaign.
Harris responded: "Here's why I would not. It would ensure that only incumbents get elected."
He explained the many advantages that incumbant politicians have and that many people vote for them simply because they recognize their names.
"I ran against two incumbant politicians," Harris said, referring to the 2008 election when he ran against Republican Rep. Wayne Gilchrest in the primary election and the 2010 election when he ran against freshman Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil.
"A little bit of funding helps," he said.
He then changed the topic to another reform measure.
"Here's what I do support: A term limit constitutional amendment," he said.
A large number of attendees clapped.
"I've talked to people inside the Beltway. They think they are the only ones who could do their jobs," he said. "I'll bet you there are 10,000 people in my district who could do my job and execute common sense."
"There is no plan even proposed to ever pay back the public debt—That's not common sense. That's not how the world works outside of the Beltway," Harris said.
Another participant said he was concerned about big business consolidation. He asked how Congress was responding to several recent corporate mergers.
"We need to level the playing field," Harris said, reiterating his earlier point of reducing business regulation.
"It's naturally easier for a larger business to comply with regulations," he said. "The small guys can't compete with the big guys. We need fewer regulations."
A man in the front row asked about regulations created by the Environmental Protection Agency and efforts to encourage the growth and usgae of alternative energy sources.
Harris turned to attendees and asked: "Which country has the largest known source of reserved fossil fuels?"
"We do," he said, as some audience members began to clap.
"Whoever controls energy in the next 20 years will control the economy," he said, adding that Americans needed wider access to low-cost energy.
"Coal and natural gas—we have the largest reserves in the world and we're not using them," he said. He added that coal shale is abundant in Maryland, but the General Assembly was considering a moratorium on allowing businesses to mine it.
"We have a three-front war or conflict or whatever you want to call it, in the Middle East right now because we depend on them for foreign fuel," he said.
He added that he believes that shifting energy use to natural gas is a practical option. He also said that he believes that the U.S. Department of Energy has failed at leading the economy toward energy independence.
"We're introducing a bill in the next few weeks that will secure American resources for our own use," he said.
He added that he beleived that nuclear energy was part of the solution, but has since changed his mind. "After everything in Japan, it's thrown a little cold water on that. If we need more energy, let's use natural gas," he said.
He added, "I'm a supporter of drilling in ANWR. Let's be realistic, we have to have energy. Here's my prediction: We're never going to decrease our energy use."
A man asked Harris how he planned to increase jobs and decrease problems with illegal immigration.
Harris then spoke about his own immigrant background: "Immigration is important to me. I'm the child of immigrants."
But, he said, "Like in day's past, they need to promise that will not become a ward of the state."
He said that illegal immigrant are not the only problem. Many citizens are "habitually and generationally being taken care of by the state," he said. "We need to control welfare, reduce entitlements."
While welfare checks are limited to specific time-frames, he said, "Food stamps are there forever. You don't have to prove to us that you're trying to get a job."
"We'll help you out, but you need to prove to us that you can help yourself out," he said.
"Our country is now divided half and half," he said, citing that only half of the national population pays income taxes. "When you're a taxpayer, you feel a little bit different about what's going on in Washington," he said.
The final question came from a man concerned about a recent report that Marines were going to be deployed to Libya. He asked about Harris' opinion on the conflict.
He responded: "With the War Powers Act, the president complied with the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. I think that the president is stretching his authority."
"This is not what the framers had in mind when they created the executive branch," he said. "I think that the emergency over the weekend is what the president allowed to happen. If he had acted three weeks ago, it would have been a much more limited engagement."
"The president did not consult congress," Harris said. "Quaddafi's a bad guy, but we deserve an explanation, these are our men and women."
The town hall meeting formally ended and Harris spoke to individual constituents for about 30 minutes.