Republicans and Democrats will have to step up to reform federal entitlement spending and get the federal deficit under control, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash, said Friday.
He spent this week's congressional break in his home district advocating for entitlement reforms that he said he believes are critical to the nation's financial future.
Without changes by the years 2023-26, all of the federal government's revenue will be required to pay for entitlement programs, he told the Herald's editorial board.
"It's unsustainable," he said.
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This year mandatory spending in those programs -- which include Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- accounts for a little more than 60 percent of annual federal spending, he said.
The remaining spending is for programs that Congress determines how much to spend on annually.
The Obama administration's proposed federal budget for fiscal 2012 includes a deficit for the third year that exceeds 10 percent of the gross domestic product, double the historical rate, Hastings said.
Hastings expects the House to propose entitlement reform when it releases its proposal for the fiscal 2012 budget next month. But whether there is a chance to reform entitlement spending will depend on the Senate budget released by Kent Conrad, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, he said.
Hastings believes Conrad, who is serving his last term and has a reputation as a deficit hawk, wants to address entitlements. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will not bring entitlement changes up this year, Hastings said.
Hastings said he supports changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to reduce spending or give states or those using the benefits more choice. The changes he supports would affect only those not yet using the benefits.
He would like to give people the choice to invest a portion of the money they or their employers pay into Social Security. "It would give them the option to build up their own nest egg," he said.
He also favors allowing seniors to make more of their own health care choices under Medicare, deciding how to spend benefits. That would bring competition into the system and cut costs, he said.
For Medicaid, which provides health care coverage for the poor, he favors more state control over what benefits are offered. The federal government would cap Medicaid spending, and then award the money in grants to the state, he said.
Hastings said he also opposes tax increases to reduce the federal deficit, saying that would slow economic growth.
The Republican-led House already has called for cuts in discretionary federal spending, and that likely would affect work at the Hanford nuclear reservation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
National lab employees in Richland have been warned that 100 to 600 jobs could be lost at PNNL under the budget passed by the House for the remainder of the current fiscal year that started Oct. 1.
The federal government has been operating under short-term continuing resolutions because Congress has been unable to pass a budget.
Hastings said he doubted the Senate would go along with as deep a cut as proposed in the House, but said he has been able to give some guidance to PNNL about what programs are most likely at risk of losing money.
Federal programs that have seen rapidly increased spending, including through federal economic stimulus spending, could be cut, he said.
Hanford received $1.96 billion in stimulus money for the past two years, although Hastings said when the money was awarded steady annual budgets would better serve the nuclear reservation.
"There are legal obligations," he said. "To that effect our budgetary process will be fine."
The administration's proposed budget for fiscal 2012 would allow the Department of Energy to meet enforceable legal deadlines that year, according to DOE. However, that depends on adequate money this fiscal year and DOE scrubbing its budget and finding savings.
Some key projects would slow down, including at the Plutonium Finishing Plant, which could add at least $100 million to cleanup costs. But DOE still believes it can meet a 2016 deadline for tearing down the plant.
Annette Cary: 582-1533; firstname.lastname@example.org.