Harris at home in the new House

Baltimore County Republican pledges 'clear message' consistent with tea party

January 05, 2011|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON — — Hours after taking the oath of office as Maryland's newest member of Congress, Rep. Andy Harris smiled broadly and summed up the import of the moment.

"It's an historic day," the Baltimore County Republican said Wednesday. "We've got to get the work done here. The people agree with us."

That sense of broad-based public support is likely a new feeling for Harris. The conservative convictions that set Harris apart even from many GOP colleagues during his 12 years in the Maryland Senate should make him feel right at home in the tea party-fueled freshman class that has powered Republicans to an overwhelming House majority.

The newcomers have pledged opposition to the Democratic health care overhaul — they're planning a vote next week to repeal the legislation — and say they will force GOP leaders to stick to the party's ideals of fiscal restraint.

"The Republican establishment today on January 5th is not the same as it was on January 2nd," Harris said.

Between the opening of the House on Wednesday afternoon and a ceremonial swearing-in in the evening, Harris was feted by supporters, volunteers and family at a boisterous Capitol Hill reception. Harris defeated Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in the district that encompasses the Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.

The revelers included Donna Gildea, a tea party supporter from Queen Anne's County who runs a company that provides technical services to manufacturers.

With the House switched from blue to red, she said "I feel much more secure already."

"I think Andy's pro-business," Gildea said. "I think he speaks to the ideals that you hear about."

Harris said he will be representing "a very clear message that's very consistent with the tea party."

"I certainly plan to adhere to my principal of a constitutionally based government that spends money efficiently," he said, but added: "It will take us a while to get this debt and deficit under control."

Harris' first day was busy, beginning with media interviews at 7:30 a.m. and extending at least to 6:45 p.m., when he was sworn in by new House Speaker John A. Boehner.

In the House chamber at midday, as colleagues posed for pictures with children and grandchildren, Harris sat quietly chatting with his son, Danny. He came to Washington with his wife, their five children and his mother, Irene, a Ukrainian immigrant who watched her son cast his first vote — to elect Boehner speaker — from the House gallery.

While some Republicans leapt to their feet and cheered loudly when Boehner was announced, Harris clapped politely. He showed about as much enthusiasm a few minutes later at the introduction of outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

At the other end of the Capitol, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski was sworn in Wednesday for a fifth term, making her the longest-serving woman in Senate history. The Maryland Democrat was escorted into the chamber by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin and former Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes.

"For me, it's not how long I serve, but how well I serve," Mikulski said in a floor speech. "Service for me is about being connected to my constituents, staying close to them so they don't fall between the cracks, meeting their day-to-day needs and also looking at the long-range needs of the nation."

The former social worker, city councilwoman and congresswoman thanked "the wonderful people who shaped me," including the School Sisters of Notre Dame, the Sisters of Mercy, and her mother and father, a grocer in the Highlandtown neighborhood of Baltimore.

In the House, Boehner announced new rules that he said would increase transparency and accountability. Committees would be smaller and focus more on government oversight, while new procedures would make it more difficult to introduce spending increases and easier to propose spending cuts.

"We will start by cutting Congress's own budget," Boehner announced, prompting a standing ovation from Harris and the rest of the Republican side of the House.

Harris cited the new rules as "a fundamental change to how the House of Representatives does business" and "the first step" in a broader shift coming to Washington.

Harris said he hoped to couple raising the federal debt ceiling, which must be approved in the coming weeks to keep the government from defaulting, to a repeal of the health care overhaul passed by Democrats last year. He said he expects Republicans to "stick to their guns on that issue."

Health care repeal is not expected to go anywhere in the Senate, where Democrats maintain a majority. The White House has said President Barack Obama would veto any attempt to alter the legislation.

But Harris said that on other issues — including budget cuts and the economy — Obama "sounds like he's actually coming over to our side."

jtorbati@baltsun.com

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