WOLCOTT and WILLIAMSON — For U.S. Rep. John Katko, it has become a biennial tradition: Visiting several Wayne County diners before the election.
Katko, R-Camillus, stopped at four diners in the westernmost part of the 24th Congressional District Saturday before he attended Pumpkin Palooza in Lyons. The appearances are part of his re-election effort as he works to fend off a challenge from Democratic candidate Dana Balter.
With his wife Robin joining him for the trip, Katko launched the tour at Foster's in Wolcott. The quaint restaurant had signs displayed notifying guests of Katko's visit. The GOP congressman, an avid hunter, admired the mounted deer and elk heads on the walls.
Donning a pullover bearing his campaign slogan, "Solid. Steady. Strong," Katko handed out hats to nearly everyone in the restaurant. He took a seat at the counter and discussed issues with patrons.
Medicare and Social Security were popular topics during Katko's visit to Foster's and Gus's Family Restaurant in Williamson. The questions he received were in response to an ad released by House Majority PAC, a Democratic group that launched a $1 million campaign against Katko.
The commercial claims that after passage of tax reform legislation, congressional Republicans' next move is to "cut Medicare and Social Security."
As he went from table to table, Katko said the people he spoke with wanted reassurances that he wouldn't vote to slash Medicare or Social Security.
"They just want to hear me say that and they know I'm not going to," he said in an interview while eating a danish at Gus's.
After the tax law was signed last year, House Speaker Paul Ryan said the next priority for Congress would be reforming Medicare and Social Security. Other Republicans said Medicare and Social Security cuts or reforms would be needed to offset the debt increase from the tax overhaul.
But Katko has maintained that he wouldn't support cuts to either program. He does believe, though, that there should be discussions about making Medicare and Social Security solvent. Reports released this year found the trust funds for Medicare and Social Security will run out in 2026 and 2032, respectively.
Changes to Medicare and Social Security, Katko said, shouldn't affect those already in the system or paying into the funds. Any reforms Congress agrees to should apply to new people entering the workforce, he explained.
"If the playing field is different for them, young people coming in, they have a whole life to play for it," he said. "That's a different story. We gotta have those conversations."
Following his visits to Foster's and Gus's, he stopped at Konstantinou's Restaurant in Ontario and Cross Park Family Restaurant in Newark.
It's the third consecutive election Katko has completed a Wayne County diner tour. When he first ran for Congress in 2014, he stopped at seven diners prior to attending Pumpkin Palooza.
Katko continued the diner tour two years ago during his first re-election bid.
"I love it because you get to meet people," he said. "On the diner tour, you see a lot of people that were there before. It's nostalgic to some extent, but it's also good to see average people out and about. They look forward to seeing you and we're having good discussions."