By Terri Ferguson Smith / email@example.com
Rep. Gregg Harper sat down with the editorial board of The Meridian Star on Thursday to talk about issues facing voters.
Harper, a Republican, represents Mississippi's Third Congressional District, which includes Oktibbeha, Noxubee, Kemper, Neshoba, Lauderdale, Newton, Scott, Rankin, Madison, Simpson, Smith, Lauderdale, Clarke, Jasper, Covington, Jefferson Davis, Lawrence, Lincoln, Walthall, Pike, Amite, Franklin, Wilkinson, and Adams counties. He is up for re-election on Nov. 6 and faces opposition from Reform Party candidate John Luke Pannell.
Gregg Harper: On the presidential election, which people often ask about ...
"It's almost beyond too close to call. I think Romney's going to win.
"You can get polls to say anything you want them to say but the two that would probably be the most reliable would be the Gallup Poll and the Rasmussen Poll. Both of those now have Romney ahead outside the margin of error. They've gone his way and they've pretty much held steady.
On Democratic control of the U.S. Senate ...
"A lot of people have said that Democrats are going to maintain control of the Senate. I don't think so. I think the numbers are a little better this week than they were last week."
Do you think the debates re-energized some of the supporters and had a positive bearing for Romney on the non-committed voters?
"Typically our nation is pretty divided and so it comes down to about 5 percent of the voters who will decide who the next president is. So you've seen the Democratic side come up with stuff that is designed to divide and create a little fear. I think Romney being positive and speaking highly of America has been something that people want to hear. We've been a little down in our national psyche I think in the last year or two."
Given the current economic conditions in the U.S. and its ties to the global economy, is there, realistically, anything a president can do to change the jobs outlook?
"I believe the president has a lot of ability, if nothing else, to change the perception that yes we are part of the world economy, but we lead the world economy. If we are doing and clicking like we should be, it's going to help other countries. It's certainly going to help us as we trade with other countries. What is the signature achievement of this administration? It's Obamacare. That is his crowning glory for his term. You go ask any business owner who is going to be subject to the act or other groups that are there on it and they look at it and say, 'This is not helping.'
This is keeping people we know of that are saying 'we're not going to expand until we know what this really means.' Some companies are considering what do we do here if this really remains the law of the land. Are we going to continue the insurance that we provide for our employees, which now will have to be in compliance with the act in that form, or is cheaper for us to not carry and the per-employee penalty?
The president can do several things. You can set the policy as it relates to regulatory reform — there are a lot of our businesses, major manufacturing, whether it's steel or coal-fired plants that we are still very dependent upon that are going to be forced to shut down because of some of the regulatory burdens or you spend a lot of money to try to get into compliance and you really don't know if you are in compliance."
On transportation funding...
"We've got a gas tax that is not enough to fund highway development, expansion and maintenance. There's no political desire to raise taxes at the pump, so what do you do? President Obama doesn't call me for advice, but if he did, I would say, 'Mr. President, you need to open up some of the federal lands ... you can do that in an environmentally safe manner. If you do that you increase your supply, you will drive down the costs and the money that comes into the government, the revenue stream for those leases, direct that to your transportation so you have a dedicated line that is not being used, that's substantial, that will come from those federal lands and off-shore leases and put that in to help fund the highway program.'"
What does this part of the state need to do to build growth such as seen in north Mississippi?
"We really do have an incredible highway system. We have really good support on rail and we certainly have lots of other options, too. You look at what's happened in the auto industry. A dozen years ago, Mississippi didn't build any cars, now we're number eight in the country in automobile manufacturing. I anticipate we're going to go up from there.
You've got (highways) 59 and 20. We've got a lot of things that are attractive. When you take a regional approach...in the past years there have been some counties in our state that, if it didn't come to your county, it wasn't a good thing.
I think the ones that are doing really good on economic development, including this area, understand that regional concept. I'm very optimistic about where we are and where we can go."
What is your top priority when Congress returns for a new term?
"Obviously, it is somewhat dependent upon who wins the presidential election. Let's assume that Romney is elected and we (Republicans) get 50 in the Senate and we maintain the House. By the end of January you will see the president sign a repeal of Obamacare. That would be my top priority to see that horrible bill done away with. It was a bad bill from the beginning, the way it was done.
The second would be to move into the energy sector and make sure that we go ahead and get the Keystone XL Pipeline going. You look at ways that we can take advantage of the energy opportunities we have in Mississippi. We've got an incredible amount of research and development going on in the state in the biofuels area. We know this: we can grow anything in Mississippi. We want to take advantage of every bit of available oil and natural gas but at the same time we want to plan for the future: strong on research and who knows what we'll improve on in the future?
We want to make sure that we continue strong at Key Field, at NAS, and the 172nd.
What about Social Security and Medicare?
"The issue we have on mandatory spending or entitlement spending, however you want to label something — it's on an unsustainable path. If we do nothing, you know you're looking at a 'Thelma and Louise' ultimately. What do you do to preserve those and save those for future generations so that they do exist?
Nobody in the system that's already in the system, probably anybody that's 55 or older is going to see any change in any of that. Social Security is the easiest to fix.
We certainly support the Medicaid dollars going to the states in the form of a block grant. We think it will reduce the overall cost of health care. At the same, time, the basic thing here is: Let's create a better business climate and job situation where people can get a job and then we don't have to worry about getting Medicaid benefits because they are going to have employment. They'll be standing on their own two feet and we've got to go in that direction."