Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Heart implant to Dr. Harris, stat!

Yeah, the month’s just past half over, so there’s plenty of time for another to claim the crown (now that Olbermann plans to revive the “Worst Persons” segment on “Countdown,” albeit with an asterisk to let everyone know he’s kidding*).

But for now, the prohibitive favorite for Hypocrite of the Month honors goes to Andy Harris of Maryland, the incoming freshman Republican congressman, who, as Politico reported Tuesday, has managed to contradict the thrust of his anti-Obamacare campaign message and give the notion of Congress as a Me-First lobby (already a deeply resonating national suspicion) a name and a face.

According to Politico, Harris, a conservative anesthesiologist and state senator just elected to Congress, was attending a Monday freshman orientation session at the Capitol Visitors Center auditorium in Washington when he “surprised fellow freshmen … by demanding to know why his government-subsidized health care plan takes a month to kick in.”

Politico’s Glenn Thrush reported that Harris “reacted incredulously when informed that federal law mandated that his government-subsidized health care policy would take effect on Feb. 1 – 28 days after his Jan. 3rd swearing-in.”

Thrush reported the comments of one congressional aide: “He stood up and asked the two ladies who were answering questions why it had to take so long, what he would do without 28 days of health care.”

“This is the only employer I’ve ever worked for where you don’t get coverage the first day you are employed,” Harris is quoted as saying.

The aide told Politico that “Harris then asked if he could purchase insurance from the government to cover the gap.”

The aide was taken aback, Thrush reported, “by the similarity to Harris’s request and the public option he denounced as a gateway to socialized medicine.”

◊ ◊ ◊

This is wrong on so many levels. First, it makes a mockery of the stand Harris took against the initiatives of so-called Obamacare during his campaign, and shows why the Me First meme is what so many Americans believe about lawmakers on Capitol Hill. For Harris, it’s all about the Benjamins — the ones that stay in his pocket now that he’s at the public trough.

Secondly, and stemming from the first issue: there are few things that could so clearly symbolize the disconnect between politicians in general (conservative ideologically-bound politicians in particular) and the people they presume to represent. God forbid poor Andy Harris — a doctor! A professor of gynecology and obstetrics! At Johns Hopkins! has to wait 28 whole days to get the best health care in the country, for free.

How unlike the people from his district in Maryland, many of whom are probably coming up on 28 months without health care, care they can’t afford to pay for. The people alluded to in a Brookings Institution report, from January, that found the real impact of poverty and the recession is typified by life in Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties — three of the counties in Harris’ district.

He hasn’t even fully arrived in Washington yet and he’s already cutting himself off from the citizens who put him there. Whining about a one-month wait for that which they can’t have at all. Get me a goddamn violin.

◊ ◊ ◊

Oh, he’ll gin up some way to spin this into insignificance. He hasn’t even gotten his office yet (that happens in the House on Friday) but he’s already learning damage control. He canceled a scheduled interview with The Baltimore Sun. Then, on Tuesday, Harris told Baltimore NBC affiliate WBAL that his Comments Were Misconstrued.

Harris said he wasn’t referring to his situation when he took the floor on Monday.

"Not my family," he told WBAL. "I have insurance, and I have the ability to have insurance. But for anyone else who gets a job — and again, the irony that the federal government would go to the American people and our employers and say you have to provide insurance — and yet our federal employees get hired, and if they don't get hired on the right day of the month, they actually have to go without health care for awhile."

Nice try, Doc. Seven weeks before he’s sworn into office, Andy Harris owes his constituents an apology for bad manners, for insensitivity and tone-deafness to those in his district less fortunate than he is, and for contradicting the thrust of his own philosophical platform. And he needs to step up and do it now, before his first term begins, before his opponents and the media can make more use of it ... while he can still help shape the narrative.

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It may already be too late for that. Tuesday’s Baltimore Sun released an e-mail from an aide to Frank Kratovil, whom Harris defeated Nov. 2.

From the e-mail: "Despite railing against the evils of government-subsidized health care for the last two years, Andy Harris chose to introduce himself on the national stage yesterday by demanding earlier access to his taxpayer-subsidized government health care benefits, and expressing shock that he would instead be treated like all other federal employees in having to wait … for his coverage to kick in.

"It has taken Rep.-Elect Harris less than two weeks to start grabbing national headlines for his arrogance and sense of entitlement."

It’s a truism: You want to hit the ground running in a new job. It’s hard to do that when you step in crap the minute you get out of the limo that brought you there.

Image credits: Harris top: andyharris.com. Harris in scrubs, Harris ad still image: Harris For Congress Channel (YouTube), via WBAL.

* Like we couldn’t figure that out already?

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