Protesters stage mock town hall on GOP tax bill outside Rep. Harris' Bel Air office


Julia Karll, of Abingdon, held protest signs, waved at traffic and chanted with other protesters Monday afternoon in Bel Air to make known their displeasure with First District Congressman Andy Harris and his Republican congressional colleagues’ support of tax cut legislation.

Karll’s 3-year-old son, Charlie, was content to play in the dirt nearby as about 25 protesters gathered along Churchville Road across the street from Harris’ Bel Air office.

“This isn’t his first protest, and it won’t be his last,” Karll said.

Protesters expressed concerns over the tax cuts, which have been championed by Republican President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, saying they could harm working and middle-class Americans and enrich wealthy individuals and large corporations while adding more than $1 trillion to the national debt.

The protesters held a mock town hall with a cardboard cutout of Harris, who was not present. Protester Brad Rosen, of Whiteford, portrayed Harris, and took a sarcastic tone answering questions posed by others about provisions such as repealing the estate tax on inheritance and eliminating a deduction for major medical expenses.

“I want to curry the favor of the idle rich who did nothing to earn this benefit and think the government should take care of them,” Rosen, speaking as Harris, said in response to a question about the estate tax repeal.

“Congress should uphold democracy — not hereditary aristocracy!” protesters chanted.

Together We Will-Harford County/Upper Chesapeake staged the protest along with Indivisible Harford County, Maryland.

Delane Lewis, leader of Together We Will, called the turnout “awesome” for lunchtime on a Monday. The protest ran from about 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

“Believe me, it’s the tip of the iceberg of the people that care about the issues,” said Lewis, whose group has organized previous protests outside Harris’ Bel Air office.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in a report issued Nov. 26 that the tax plan could cost the federal government more than $1.6 trillion in revenue between 2018 and 2027 and cause a $1.4 trillion increase in the federal deficit over a 10-year period. The CBO also estimated 4 million people could lose health insurance as early as 2019 if the individual mandate to purchase coverage is repealed as part of the tax bill, according to its report.

Protesters held signs bearing slogans such as “Not 1 Cent for the 1 Percent” and “Tax Cuts Make 1% Richer 99% Poorer.”

Karll said she is concerned about potential eliminations of deductions for homeowners’ interest payments on mortgages and the imposition of taxes on tuition waivers for graduate students.

“These are things that affect me and my family’s lives,” she said. “I don't see this [bill] helping us.”

Karll said she and her husband are former graduate students who used tax-free tuition waivers. Now they are looking to buy a house.

“If a graduate student’s tuition waiver is counted as income, then graduate students’ tax rates would skyrocket because it would look like they have more income than they do,” she said.

Harris voted for the House of Representatives’ version of the bill when it passed the House on Nov. 16.

The Senate passed its version early Saturday morning on a near-party line vote. The bill passed 51-49, and Sen. Bob Corker, of Tennessee, was the only Republican who voted against it.

The House voted Monday night to send it to conference committee, where differences between the House and Senate versions are expected to be reconciled.

Teleconference town hall

Meanwhile, Harris hosted a town hall with constituents via teleconference Monday evening. He said he thinks the Senate “had a much better approach than the House,” and that “the result of the House-Senate conference is going to be better.”

“The facts are ... the vast, vast majority of middle-income Marylanders will see significant savings on their taxes,” Harris said.

Harris’ district includes the Eastern Shore, central and northern Harford County and sections of Baltimore and Carroll counties.

Harris said Monday’s tele-town hall was the sixth town hall meeting he has hosted via teleconference this year. Three more live meetings have been on the Eastern Shore.

Rosen, who portrayed Harris at the protest, attended one of the Eastern Shore town halls and said it took about three hours for him and his partner, Chelsea Roberts, to get to a Nov. 11 gathering at Wicomico High School in Salisbury.

“We're both really, really irate at Andy Harris,” Rosen said.

He characterized the meeting and Harris at the meeting as “the stonewall of no actual discussion happening — he just talks at you.”

Roberts said she has spent months trying to get answers to her constituent concerns from Harris and his staff in Washington, D.C. and Bel Air. After meeting with staffers, Roberts said they did not seem prepared or wanted to argue with her.

Roberts circulated a petition at the protest to get Harris to hold a town hall meeting in Bel Air.

Harris’ most recent town hall in Harford County took place in January 2016 at the Bel Air Town Hall.

The congressman said during his teleconferenced town hall meeting on Monday that he could host an in-person meeting in Bel Air next spring, when Trump’s proposal to reform welfare is expected to be before Congress.

But he can reach many more people, about 5,000 to 6,000, through teleconferencing, compared to about 100 at in-person town halls, Harris said.

“We like doing it and we hear good feedback from it,” Harris said.

Regarding the tax bill’s effect on grad student tuition waivers, Harris suggested universities provide financial aid to graduate students who work on campus, rather than tuition waivers.

He also addressed concerns about whether tax reform could harm Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

“I think we need the tax reform to get our economy going even better than it is, but those three programs should come through tax reform without any adverse effect at all,” he said during the teleconferenced town hall.

Harris said he has a commitment from congressional leaders to address, in the final version of the bill, a proposed repeal of a deduction for individual state and local income taxes.

“It needs to be a little better for my constituents because in Maryland we have unfortunately, some of the highest taxes in the country,” he said.

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