Har­ris poised for big­ger House role af­ter elec­tion

Balto. Co. con­gress­man run­ning to head con­ser­va­tive GOP cau­cus

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By John Fritze

WASH­ING­TON — Rep. Andy Har­ris wants House Repub­li­cans to use an upcoming debt-ceil­ing dead­line to force more fis­cal re­straint.

And for the first time in his con­gres­sional ca­reer, the Bal­ti­more County law­maker could have con­sid­er­able in­flu­ence to make it hap­pen.

Har­ris, in his third term in the House, is run­ning to be chair­man of the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee, a 173-mem­ber cau­cus that has worked since the 1970s to pull the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to the right on fis­cal and so­cial is­sues.

If suc­cess­ful — and he is well po­si­tioned to win the group’s in­ter­nal elec­tion later this month — he would have con­sid­er­able sway in stitch­ing to­gether con­ser­va­tives who have been di­vided over the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign of Don­ald Trump.

“I be­lieve it’s these House con­ser­va­tives who are go­ing to re­de­fine what the word ‘con­ser­va­tive’ means, and what a Repub­li­can is,” said Adam Bran­don, pres­i­dent of the con­ser­va­tive group Free­domWorks, which has en­dorsed Har­ris for the chair­man­ship.

“If noth­ing else, he’s go­ing to start a de­bate about what the pri­or­i­ties will be.” Rep. Andy Har­ris is well po­si­tioned to chair the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee, which would give him sway in unit­ing con­ser­va­tives.

“I be­lieve it’s these House con­ser­va­tives who are go­ing to re­de­fine what the word ‘con­ser­va­tive’ means.”

Har­ris, a Johns Hop­kins-trained anes­the­si­ol­o­gist whowon­the seat in 2010 in part by op­pos­ing Oba­macare, would play a role in uni­fy­ing con­ser­va­tives around Speaker Paul Ryan, who faces an elec­tion to re­tain his lead­er­ship.

He would also help de­cide how the House re­sponds to a Hil­lary Clin­ton or Trump pres­i­dency.

And he would have a voice in the de­bate over the next debt-ceil­ing in­crease. Con­ser­va­tives have used pre­vi­ous debt-ceil­ing dead­lines to de­mand fis­cal con­ces­sions. Congress will likely have to raise the cap again in March or risk de­fault­ing on U.S. debt.

Wash­ing­ton ap­proached the brink of de­fault in 2011 and 2013. Af­ter Repub­li­cans took most of the blame for the 2013 gov­ern­ment shut­down, GOP lead­ers have rammed sub­se­quent debt-ceil­ing in­creases through the House with less drama.

But if pre­dic­tions for next week’s elec­tion hold, and Democrats pick up some House seats but not enough to se­cure a ma­jor­ity, the cham­ber will be led next year by a smaller, more con­ser­va­tive GOP con­fer­ence.

That could com­pli­cate Ryan’s job on must-pass bills and give the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee more power to ex­ert in­flu­ence.

“I be­lieve that in this ses­sion of Congress, we are go­ing to have to fo­cus on the econ­omy and fi­nan­cial is­sues — and the first one that’s go­ing to come right up is the debt ceil­ing,” Har­ris told The Bal­ti­more Sun.

“The RSC can take a very ac­tive role … in bring­ing for­ward the idea to the Amer­i­can peo­ple that you have to ac­tu­ally con­sider bal­anc­ing the bud­get at some point and pay­ing down the fed­eral debt,” he said.

“That’s the mes­sage that we need to send right at the be­gin­ning of this term.”

Democrats have said debt-ceil­ing brinks­man­ship is reck­less — the equiv­a­lent of hold­ing the na­tion’s credit score hostage.

“Right now, [Repub­li­cans] can’t even pass their own stuff,” Pres­i­dent Barack Obama said last week, in ar­gu­ing for a Demo­cratic Congress. “And all we’re go­ing to see is more grid­lock and more ob­struc­tion, and more threats to shut down the gov­ern­ment, and more threats to wreck the econ­omy.”

Har­ris, 59, won re-elec­tion in 2014 with more than 70 per­cent of the vote. He faces Demo­cratic lawyer Joe Werner of Har­ford County and Lib­er­tar­ian Matt Beers on Elec­tion Day. Werner could not be reached for com­ment.

Har­ris rep­re­sents the state’s heav­ily Repub­li­can 1st Con­gres­sional Dis­trict, which in­cludes the Eastern Shore and por­tions of Har­ford, Bal­ti­more and Car­roll coun­ties. He won a spot on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee in 2013 and has taken a lead­ing role in de­vel­op­ing health care pol­icy in the House.

The Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee chair­man­ship has some­times been viewed as a spring­board to lead­er­ship. Vice pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mike Pence was chair­man from 2005 to 2007. The cur­rent House ma­jor­ity whip, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was chair­man from 2013 to 2014.

If suc­cess­ful, Har­ris would serve two years.

Adam Bran­don, Free­domWorks

Har­ris, who con­sid­ered run­ning in 2014 but dropped out af­ter the sud­den death of his wife, is bas­ing his can­di­dacy on the idea that he is best po­si­tioned to unify con­ser­va­tives. He is a mem­ber of the much smaller Free­dom Cau­cus, which of­ten agrees with the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee on pol­icy but fa­vors a more ag­gres­sive ap­proach in con­fronting House lead­ers.

Some Free­dom Cau­cus law­mak­ers have con­sid­ered with­draw­ing from the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee. But if one of their own be­comes chair­man, it likely would stem at least some de­fec­tions.

Rep. Jim Jor­dan of Ohio, a found­ing mem­ber of the Free­dom Cau­cus and its cur­rent chair­man, and Rep. Bill Flo­res of Texas, the cur­rent chair­man of the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee, wrote in Septem­ber that Har­ris’ three terms in the House would “be ben­e­fi­cial to the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Har­ris faces Rep. Mark Walker, a first­term Repub­li­can from North Carolina, who is not a mem­ber of the Free­dom Cau­cus.

“I be­lieve the RSC is best equipped to take our con­ser­va­tive mes­sage to new com­mu­ni­ties and build bridges across tra­di­tional po­lit­i­cal and cul­tural di­vides,” Walker said in a state­ment. “As chair­man, I would strive to pro­mote ef­fec­tive con­ser­vatism by co­a­lesc­ing mem­bers around achiev­able goals and en­gag­ing early and con­sis­tently in the leg­isla­tive process.”

Be­fore the Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee holds its chair­man­ship elec­tion, House Repub­li­cans are sched­uled to vote on whether to give Ryan an­other term as their leader. While some con­ser­va­tives have ex­pressed dis­con­tent with Ryan’s per­for­mance, it is not clear any­one else wants the job .

Har­ris, who was at times crit­i­cal of for­mer Speaker John Boehner, had pos­i­tive things to say about Ryan.

“Paul is a good, right-of-cen­ter con­ser­va­tive, who has a tough job,” he said.

The Repub­li­can Study Com­mit­tee was cre­ated in 1973 to serve as the con­ser­va­tive arm of the House Repub­li­cans at a time when many on the right felt Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon was steam­rolling the cau­cus.

The com­mit­tee has grown con­sid­er­ably since, caus­ing some to ques­tion whether it has strayed from its mis­sion.

Ed Feul­ner, a founder of the con­ser­va­tive Her­itage Foun­da­tion, said Har­ris could help con­front those ques­tions. Feul­ner, a mem­ber of Trump’s tran­si­tion team, was the com­mit­tee’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor dur­ing its early days.

Har­ris “can very much be the bridge be­tween the lead­er­ship on the one side and the ... Free­dom Cau­cus on the other,” he said, “bring­ing every­body back to­gether.”

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