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Heather Wilson, a recently declared candidate to replace retiring Sen. Pete Domenici, is a so-called “moderate Republican.” Unfortunately, judging by her track record and the most recent congressional ratings from the National Taxpayers Union, outside of a few Northeast Republicans (Chris Shays, Sherwood Boehlert), Wilson is the most liberal Republican in the House of Representatives.

And if she winds up in the Senate, she may top Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in the Republicans-who-vote-liberal category.

Wilson has shown recently that she is no longer content to merely vote as a liberal. Instead, she is going to lead other moderate Republicans against their own president’s attempts to restrain federal spending. Her role in pushing for an override of President Bush’s S-CHIP veto is a case in point.

Wilson was one of 17 Republican House members to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, asking her to allow a vote on the Senate version of the S-CHIP bill. She then proceeded to lobby her fellow Republican colleagues on behalf of the $35 billion tax-and-spending increase.

The proposal that passed both Houses, which undoubtedly will be resurrected with a number of tweaks designed to attract additional moderate Republicans, extends eligibility to children from families with incomes that are two-to-three times the federal poverty level. That makes children in families of four with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000 eligible for S-CHIP.

Since the median income for a family of four in New Mexico is about $51,000, this expansion will land directly on middle-class New Mexico families. Although the state’s income levels are among the lowest in the nation, large numbers of middle-class families in other states also would qualify for the expanded S-CHIP program that Wilson supports.

Most of the children in these families, however, are already covered by private health insurance. This expansion therefore invites the parents of these children to drop their private insurance and shift that cost to the taxpayers. While it is uncertain exactly how much private insurance the expansion of public coverage will crowd out, the Congressional Budget Office projects that if the program is expanded, 25 to 50 percent of new S-CHIP participants would be children who already had private insurance.

Families with incomes that are two-to-three times the federal poverty level manage to buy their own housing, food, and transportation, and most buy health insurance for their children. But the S-CHIP expansion replaces such personal responsibility with a $35 billion taxpayer subsidy.

That $35 billion cost is even an understatement. While the CBO scores its $35 billion S-CHIP expansion, paid for with a 61-cent-a-pack increase in federal tobacco taxes, as revenue-neutral over five years, the legislation Wilson and her Democratic allies had supported uses a transparent budget gimmick — an absurd “cliff” in the funding level — to make the legislation look fiscally sound past the five-year mark. This is both fiscally and morally irresponsible.

So why is Heather Wilson — R., N.M. — supporting this exceedingly liberal measure and working to override the president’s veto?

Some would argue that since Wilson won re-election by a mere 500 votes (over former attorney general Patty Madrid) that she has to be allowed her “independence.” That may be true, but it is equally true that when Republicans advocate bigger government and tax hikes, they hurt themselves politically.

Rep. Wilson ran for office and won as Pete Domenici’s protégé. She may shift rightward in the Senate, but her track record is that of a big-government Republican.
Paul Gessing is president of the Rio Grande Foundation.

Lack of Spending Restraint Illustrates Need for New Mexico Taxpayer Protections
Testimony before the New Mexico Legislature on the Taxpayer Protection Act