The fiscal cliff that had threatened the nation with possible recession became a speed bump at the last minute on New Year's Day, but the law that averted the cliff consisted mostly of date changes. Many of the same issues still confront Washington leaders and the public's collective bank accounts.
In the wake of the cliff, the Congress members who represent Curry, Roosevelt and Quay counties, all Democrats, are mainly concerned with keeping alive the federal programs that benefit New Mexico, especially the Los Alamos and Sandia national laboratories.
Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall, along with Rep. Ben Ray Lujan want to abandon altogether the "sequester," a series of wholesale program cuts that would have gone into effect had the cliff not been averted.
"It would be beneficial to put the sequester on hold," Heinrich said. It would be better to consider programs individually than to make cuts "across the board," he said.
Sen. Tom Udall concurred.
"The sequester would slash programs across-the-board, including funding for New Mexico labs and limit smart investments in infrastructure that can get our economy healthy again," he said in a message. "We must find a different approach."
Congress should act on an understanding that encouraging economic growth, along with some spending reductions, will result in greater deficit reductions than cutting programs across the board, Udall said.
He also called for an "end to the brinksmanship" as the fiscal issues re-emerge in the current session of Congress. He added, "a long-term plan to deal with debts and the deficit must also focus on rebuilding our economy, not meeting an arbitrary number. Growing our economy and helping businesses add well-paying jobs should be Congress' priority."
As an example of spending reduction opportunities that would not have adverse impact on people already living in poverty, Heinrich said benefits for Social Security and Medicare could be subjected to means testing, in which benefit levels are adjusted according to household income.
Lujan said some changes to Medicare could also cut costs without compromising benefits.
"Republicans in Congress have blocked efforts to allow Medicare to use its purchasing power to negotiate for lower prescription drug prices," Lujan said. As a large purchaser, he said, "Medicare can use its leverage to get lower costs and save money." The Veterans Administration has negotiated lower drug prices and estimates $150 billion in savings over 10 years, Lujan said.
Further, Lujan said Congress should look for ways to further reduce Medicare inefficiencies, "rather than transferring costs to seniors by cutting benefits." Lujan said he previously supported efforts to cut $716 billion in "waste, fraud, and overpayments" from Medicare.
Lujan and Heinrich also see cost reduction opportunities in some defense programs. Both, for instance, encouraged abandonment of a plan to change the engine configuration on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which would add $3 billion to spending, according to Lujan.
Heinrich said U.S. troop strength in Europe, now numbering 80,000, should be reconsidered. "NATO leaders should take a more substantial role" in ensuring Europe's security," he said.
Heinrich also said many Defense programs designed for the Cold War have become obsolete and should be cut or have their funding reduced.
"Defense programs should be mission forward in protecting national security," he said, meaning they should be relevant to the security needs of the post-Cold War world. "We should make sure New Mexico's bases are taking a mission forward approach."
Heinrich also said more opportunities to raise revenues should be explored, including the closing of tax loopholes and ending some income tax exemptions.
In the wake of the cliff, Lujan listed other priorities, including changes to the Farm Bill that would address the concerns farmers in eastern New Mexico, including drought, crop insurance and dairy farm crises. Last year, an attempt to make these changes was thwarted by House Republicans, he said.
Lujan also supports more strength in the federal Violence Against Women Act, especially as it deals with violence against women on tribal lands, and more Congressional support for efforts to clean up abandoned uranium mines in New Mexico.