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WORDS FROM WASHINGTON

Congressional mailbag

Each month I receive thousands of emails, phone calls and letters on a variety of topics. I want to share a few questions that I recently received.

Do members of Congress get special retirement benefits or do they pay into Social Security?

All members of Congress contribute to Social Security and are eligible for benefits just like any covered American worker. While I plan on receiving Social Security benefits upon retirement, I do not believe public officials should unduly benefit from their years of representing their constituents. That is why I pledged to forego any pension from my service in Congress when I was first elected. However, should they so choose, senators and representatives may participate in the same retirement system as all federal employees.

What has Congress done lately to increase trade opportunities?

In November, I was pleased to support legislation that gives United States growers and manufacturers duty-free access to markets in Russia. With 40 percent of jobs in Washington state dependent on trade, improving access to overseas markets is essential to job creation and economic growth. Specifically, this legislation ensures that U.S. businesses can compete on a level playing field with foreign competitors in this seventh largest market in the world. Thankfully, the bill passed the Senate and was signed into law by the President on Dec. 14.

What does your Chairmanship of the Natural Resources Committee mean for Central Washington residents?

I'm honored to have been selected to serve as Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee in the upcoming Congress. Of importance to Central Washington and the Pacific Northwest, the Committee oversees the Bonneville Power Administration, Bureau of Reclamation irrigation projects (Columbia Basin Project and Yakima Project), endangered species recovery, federal hydropower projects, Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILT) payments and firefighting on federal lands. In the next two years my priorities will include promoting responsible land management policies that improve the health of our national forests; supporting rural communities and reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires; protecting our dams and promoting hydropower production; and ensuring that the federal government is a willing partner in addressing the needs of irrigated agriculture, which is so important to our economy in Central Washington.

I appreciate that so many people I represent from Central Washington take the time to share their views with me. The easiest way to contact me is through my website at www.hastings.house.gov, where you can email me and sign up to receive e-newsletters. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

- U.S. Congressman Doc Hastings (R-Pasco) represents Central

Washington's Fourth Congressional District.

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