Three Bay Area Freshmen Go to Congress

Congress
TAMPA -

Florida sent more freshmen members to the 110th Congress than any other state. Three of the five new members are from the bay area.

Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor won his first term in Congress - in part - on the strength of his dad. Michael Bilirakis served nearly a quarter century in that same office. And, Gus plans to continue his father's work on issues like full retirement benefits for wounded veterans.

BILIRAKIS: Now, my dad worked on this. This was a big issue for him. And, those who are 50 percent and above disabled, now, will receive their military pension and their retirement pension and their disability compensation. So, we want to make them whole, all of them, 50 percent and below because we took care of those 50 percent and above.

However, Bilirakis listed property insurance as his number one issue.

BILIRAKIS: We can help on a federal level. It should be a partnership, the state and the local government, the state and the federal government. So, health insurance is also very big.

There's another political legacy: Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa. Her mother Betty Castor was the first woman elected to the Hillsborough County Commission. Now, Kathy Castor has become the first woman to represent Tampa in Congress.

She's looking forward implementing Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 100 hours plan including ethics reforms.

CASTOR: I hate to say it, but many people have lost confidence in the United States Congress and it's time to keep our pledge because we have many difficult decisions ahead. Ultimately, we'll get to Social Security, Medicare and the war in Iraq and the budget. These are going to be very difficult issues. And, unless the country has confidence in the decision making of the congress then we will not be as successful as we should be.

But, Castor also has a list of bay area issues she plans to tackle such as reforming the Medicare drug program.

CASTOR: It's time to allow the government to negotiate drug prices like we do under the Veterans Administration and simplify the program. So, I'm looking forward to that right out of the box, health Care reform as well, children's health insurance and making student loans more affordable.

The Democrat-controlled House did not try to block the swearing in of Republican Vern Buchanan, the state certified winner of District 13. But, congress is expected to investigate the Sarasota voting machine controversy.

Buchanan says he doesn't have a problem with that.

BUCHANAN: They'll look into it. And, I'm confident when they look into it if it takes a year, six months or 18 months, whatever it takes it's a non issue. I believe completely and totally that it's a non issue. There's 238,000 people that did vote in this race. And, we won. The votes have been counted. We've been certified the winner.

He listed Iraq and passing a balanced budget amendment among his top priorities. And Buchanan admits, when he started his run for office, he never expected the Republicans to be the minority party.

BUCHANAN: We were the majority and I thought we'd stay in. But, honestly, I think Republicans in many ways have lost their way and we need to earn our way back, get back to our roots, the reason we took the majority in the first place in 1994.

Buchanan has requested spots on the Veteran Affairs Committee, Transportation and Financial Affairs Committee.

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