Complaining about government when you're part of it rings a little hollow [Editorial]

U.S. Rep. Andy Harris certainly is the darling of Harford County's conservative voters, who make up a large contingent of the local people who participate in the election process.

There's certainly no mystery as to why he's able to draw crowds like the one he attracted last week to Bel Air Town Hall. He touched on all the issues that have been of interest to his base in the past few years, namely federal spending, energy policy, immigration and health care reform, among others.

From a very broad perspective, his views, taken individually, are well within the range of what is considered the political right of mainstream thinking. Taken in aggregate, however, they sometimes seem a bit contradictory.

Asked about national defense, in keeping with the expected answer, he said he favors increased defense spending. He also, however, went to great lengths to talk about cutting federal spending. The two things are not necessarily mutually exclusive; Harris said he'd like to see cuts in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Education. Even if both were eliminated, however, it would be all but impossible to cut federal spending without cutting defense spending. The U.S. defense budget for more than 30 years, regardless of which party has controlled Congress or the White House, has consistently been equal to or more than all other discretionary government spending combined.

Now if he were to start talking about cutting spending on things like issuing Social Security checks and providing Medicare benefits – non-discretionary spending as these categories come from dedicated funds – then it would be possible.

On the subject of federal medical programs, Mr. Harris similarly holds two seemingly incongruous views. Last week he was quoted saying "...the government running health care is not the way to do it."

It has long been popular to be critical of the government – even when you're part of it as is Mr. Harris.

Curiously, while he has steadfastly been opposed for government-run health care for most people, when he was first elected to Congress in 2010, he was conspicuous in his expression of irritation at having to wait a whole month before his Congressional health care plan would take effect.

It is very easy to show up at public meetings and rail about the inefficiencies in government and commit to re-argue legislation that already has been passed. Indeed, it also makes for good politics because tapping into public frustration over failures and problems is a good way to attract votes.

It doesn't, however, accomplish much. Indeed, those elected to public office who fail to work with others elected to similar offices, but who hold different views, subvert the system. The idea of having so many people in Congress wasn't so the opinion of one or a few would carry the day; it was so different views could be raised and policies hashed out based on those different views and perspectives.

If Mr. Harris wants to continue in Congress, he'll be able to do so only if he is able in the long run to deliver something other than complaints about the federal government. Anyone can complain about it. If you complain about it and end up being sent to Congress, though, the expectation is that you'll do something about it, not continue to complain.

Given the rote — and sometimes incompatible — positions Mr. Harris expressed last week, it appears he's poised to do a lot of complaining and not much else from his seat in Congress.

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