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Spending cuts hit home for House GOP freshman

From Dana Bash, CNN
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How proposed budget cuts might hit home
  • Freshman congressman touts vote to slash $61 billion in government spending
  • Constituent tells Andy Harris some cuts look "politically motivated"
  • "Is that something we want our children to have to pay back," he asks
  • Harris says he gets more support for spending cuts than anger

Annapolis, Maryland (CNN) -- Walking into a town hall meeting, freshman House Republican Andy Harris has some work to do.

He's touting his vote to slash $61 billion in government spending this year, but he also knows those cuts have real world effects on the people he represents here in Maryland's 1st congressional district.

"There are programs that you may have gotten used to, that the funding will have to be reduced," Harris told the crowd at Annapolis' Broadneck Public Library.

"The question we have to ask is we have to borrow that money, and is that something we want our children to have to pay back for what we're going to do now," Harris said.

Questions from Harris' constituents about the spending cuts are polite, but direct.

"It doesn't appear to me that there has been any thought given on what cuts, what the affects of these cuts are going to be," one constituent said.

Another told the congressman that some of the budget cuts he and other Republicans voted for look "politically motivated."

One cut passed by the House hits especially close to home in this district, which is surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay. Harris voted to stop funding this year for a decades-old EPA project to clean pollution from the bay.

Doug Siglin with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation calls that a clear and bewildering vote that will hurt his own constituents because a polluted bay costs the area millions in jobs and revenue.

"I think it's unconscionable. I don't think that a member of Congress that has such a stake in the bay should be voting to cut all federal funding," Siglin told CNN.

Harris admits it was a "tough vote," but insists "the sky is not going to fall."

"The EPA will be able to spend less money," Harris said, "but I'm not sure that I agree with their opinion that its going to stop funding for all bay programs."

To be sure, not all of Harris' constituents worry that the spending cuts he voted for will have a negative effect on them. In fact some came to his town hall meeting to give him words of encouragement in his quest to reign in government spending and bring down the deficit.

"We are spending $100 of every $59 we collect with the federal government now. You couldn't run a business or a family like that for two months, but that's what we're doing," one man in the audience told Harris, as he nodded in agreement.

But then there was Joan Urbach, who approached Harris after the formal meeting was over with a chart she found on the internet illustrating the spending cuts he and other House Republicans supported.

The two had a rather spirited exchange.

"This $1.6 billion for science programs, if we don't have science programs we're not going to advance in science," Urbach argued.

"But do you think that all the scientific inquiry we're doing at the federal level is justified, on all the topics," the congressman shot back.

Urbach then pointed to a graph showing millions slashed at the IRS.

"IRS? Why cut the IRS if they're going to get us more money from the government," she asked.

"Because everybody has to participate. Everyone," Harris responded. "Is it worth borrowing $600 million from my children and your children and grandchildren to fund the Internal Revenue Service this year?"

Following the town hall meeting -- the latest in a series he held throughout his district all week -- Harris insisted he's heard more support for the spending cuts he is promoting, than anger.

"Some people said, you're going home, and a town hall meeting, are you crazy? People are going to ask about these, I say, no I want to hear from people. I believe that they sent me to Washington to make tough decisions," Harris said.