Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Put Congress on Social Security

SANTA FE Sen. Kerry wants all Americans to have a health plan equaling that enjoyed by members of Congress. President Bush says that would cost trillions.
We’ll take his word for it. He’s probably right. A less expensive plan, floated on the Internet during every federal election campaign is to wipe out retirement benefits of every member of Congress and put them on Social Security.
That would get the system fixed very quickly because congressional retirement benefits are extremely generous. That’s because they get to set their own pay and benefits, unlike New Mexico lawmakers, who have to get the state constitution amended anytime they want anything for themselves.
Of course, if members of Congress were limited to the same retirement benefits as the people they represent, their Social Security fix would probably break the bank worse than Kerry’s health planwould.
Kerry’s plan is interesting. It certainly is a more popular way to say he is for government-paid health insurance. He may have come up with the idea after hearing the clamor to put Congress on Social Security.
It is a popular notion among both Republican and Democrat voters. But I have never heard a single member of Congress address the issue. The next time you go to a campaign rally, ask your member of Congress to join you on Social Security.
The H.J. Heinz Co. has found itself a win-win situation that is sure to have its directors laughing all the way through board meetings. All the presidential donations from the Heinz political action committee go to President Bush.
But every time Heinz Co. transfers another job out of the country, the Republican National Committee levels another blast at Sen. Kerry for being hypocritical. And Republicans on the Internet pick it up and spin it through cyberspace.
Of course, Kerry has nothing to do with the company’s decisions. He’s about the last person who would be asked to serve on the board of directors. But because his wife was once married to a Heinz and still uses the name, the ketchup spills over on Kerry every time Heinz Co. is criticized.
Another election oddity has occurred in Albuquerque, where Al “Hurricane” Sanchez has endorsed incumbent Rep. Heather Wilson. Sanchez, known as the Godfather of New Mexico Music, served in the New Mexico Air National Guard with Richard Romero back in the 1960s.
Also serving in that guard unit were Maurice (Tiny Morrie) and Gabriel (Baby Gaby), two younger brothers of Sanchez, who also starred in the Al “Hurricane” and the Night Rockers musical group. Alfred Sanchez and his son Al “Hurricane” Jr. both endorsed Wilson because of her work on education issues and for supporting music and art programs in the schools.
Like her predecessors in office, Wilson has had much crossover appeal. She is a protégé of Sen. Pete Domenici, who went way out on a limb, endorsing her six years ago even after she had finished second to state Rep. Bill Davis at the state GOP nominating convention.
Domenici has always had a reputation as a moderate in Congress, which has kept him out of several leadership roles he has sought. In New Mexico, he has gotten away with running as a conservative, even though Republicans know better, because they know he can pull in Democrat votes to win general elections.
In this year’s congressional race, Wilson is running into some trouble for her claims that she carries on the tradition of her predecessors Rep. Steve Schiff and Rep. Manuel Lujan. Wilson has claimed to have a very independent voting record in Washington and banks heavily on that in her commercials.
But the Democratic National Committee has called her on the claim, calculating that her votes have averaged about 91 percent with what the party asks her to do. The DNC says Schiff voted 71 percent with the party line and Lujan voted only 64 percent with the GOP.


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