Central Washington's spokesman in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Doc Hastings, fully expects Social Security reform to be the hot topic next year in Washington, D.C.
"There are lots of details to be worked out," Hastings admitted during a quick stopover in Sunnyside this week. But he said he believes behind President George Bush's leadership, lawmakers will be able to successfully revamp the retirement program. Most believe there won't be enough money in the Social Security system to fully fund retirees within the next 20 to 30 years. Perhaps sooner, some critics say.
"It (Social Security) simply won't be in viable shape once those who are now 35 years old and younger reach retirement age," said Hastings (R-Pasco). "Something needs to be done now."
Bush's plan for reforming Social Security is precipitated on allowing those who pay into the system to voluntarily take part of their contributions and invest those funds. Opponents to his plan aren't convinced that Americans are savvy enough to make wise investments.
"I'm supportive of the concept," Hastings said, recalling a time when IRA's were introduced to the American public and many believed the U.S. citizenry didn't have the where-with-all to look far enough ahead to set aside part of their incomes for their retirements.
Hastings said there remains much to be worked out in implementing Bush's Social Security reforms, but the concept is sound.
"The devil's in the details," he said.
Until recently, Social Security was one of those "untouchables" for politicians, said the Pasco legislator. But now, Hastings explained, he believes there is enough support nationwide to restructure the program so that it is viable for generations to come.
"We had several U.S. senators who ran this past fall on this very issue, and got elected," said Hastings. "That says something. Many people are ready for this. The younger generation gets it. Something needs to be done now."
Is there enough support in D.C. for Bush's plan to revamp the system?
Hastings says yes.
He points out the U.S. Senate netted a gain of four Republicans this past election to give the GOP a 55-45 advantage. The Republicans also picked up four or five additional seats in the House this past fall for a 232-203 edge over the Democrats.
With the GOP having control of both legislative houses, as well as the White House, Hastings is confident that Social Security reform will happen.
"We feel momentum is on our side," Hastings said.
Another top priority of Republicans, Hastings continued, is Bush's desire to simplify the tax system. He said there are several options on the table, including instituting a flat tax that carries no deductions for taxpayers, as well as a plan to eliminate the federal income tax altogether and replace it with a consumption tax.
"Of course, we here in Washington are familiar with that, having a state sales tax," he said.
"I don't know how it's going to turn out, but I think the debate on simplifying our tax system will definitely get underway," Hastings said.
Locally, Hastings said his 2005 priorities during the 109th Congress will focus on advancing the Black Rock Reservoir project and maintaining the acceleration of the clean-up at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.