Patt Morrison for president!

MY FELLOW Americans: Today I am announcing that I am not testing the waters. I am not forming an exploratory committee. I am not studying the possibility. I am not embarking on a listening tour.

I am running for president of the United States.

I am not running in order to end the war in Iraq, although I think that's a swell idea. I am not running to heal the divisions that have torn at this country, to stop corporate malfeasance, to put the brakes on global warming, to balance the budget, to end faith-based policymaking or to put the White House on a vegetarian diet, although anybody who wants to accomplish those things will have my full-throated support.

I am running to lead by example. As Americans see their livelihoods and futures diminished by downsizing and outsourcing, by the looting of pension funds, the shriveling of healthcare benefits, I have concluded that the only way to ensure that I can get decent health and retirement benefits is to hold elected federal office — the only job in the nation with rock-solid, guaranteed healthcare and pension benefits.

Americans who have clamored to cut politicians' salaries and perks have been going at it all wrong. Congress would never vote to stitch its own pockets closed. Instead, it's time for the rest of us to cut ourselves in. As president, I intend to set a standard that I hope thousands of Americans will follow.

According to "How to Be President," a fine book I consulted thoroughly before making my decision, the president gets such perks as a free commander-in-chief terry-cloth robe, free cable and high-speed Internet, free phone service and M&M packs printed with the presidential seal. Yet the real benefits are these: a doctor's office in the White House basement, all medical bills paid, a free annual top-to-bottom physical exam, free prescriptions, free psychiatric visits — anything the president needs. No deductibles, no long forms to fill out, no waiting for an approved referral to a specialist, and no being turned down because of a preexisting condition (not even if you're Dick Cheney).

Harry Truman left the White House in 1953 and lived mostly on his $112.56-a-month World War I Army pension. Once I'm a former president, my $186,000 annual pension would kick in — starting with a half-day's pay when the new president's clock begins ticking at noon on Inauguration Day. According to a 1974 Justice Department opinion, I could walk off the job after three months and still get the full pension, plus an office and staff allowance, travel expenses, free mail and phone calls and not quite free but still top-drawer healthcare. And an all-expenses-paid funeral.

Naturally, once I got mine, I would want all my fellow citizens to have a chance at this kind of safety net. We can't all be president, but thousands of us could belly up to the federal benefits buffet. Thus, the one law I would propose, come January 2009, is a constitutional amendment limiting all 535 seats in the House and Senate to one term, with full benefits accruing after that single term — a political revolving door so that all of you could have a shot at the same salaries and old-age healthcare afforded to members of Congress.

In the real world, cost-of-living adjustments on pay are becoming as rare as WMD in Iraq, but Congress gets them automatically — unless it votes not to (oh, you heard that one at the Laugh Factory, did you?). The National Taxpayers Union, which dogs politicians' benefits, says that congressional pensions are two or three times more generous than you'd get on an equivalent salary in the real world (if your bosses are still providing pensions). In office, members pay trifling amounts for the best of medical care, and if they hang on to the job at least five years, they can get subsidized healthcare until they reach Medicare age.

Even Randy "Duke" Cunningham, the San Diego ex-congressman now serving eight years in the slammer for bribery and corruption, will get a pension check for perhaps $36,000 a year for his decade and a half in the House, plus his military pension. Congress voted last month to revoke pensions for their fellows convicted of bribery and corruption — but not retroactively.

So let's do the math: 435 new House members every two years, 100 new senators every six years — in 30 years more than 7,000 Americans could be enjoying a comfortable and secure retirement.

And those benefits can't vanish unless, like a corporation, the country itself goes broke. You think it might? For nearly seven years, that possibility hasn't troubled this administration — why should we start worrying now?

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