U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, downplayed tensions in the Republican Party in a speech before business officials Thursday.
Hastings, who has represented the area since 1995 in Washington, D.C., was asked by an audience member at the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce whether he sees differences between younger Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and "old guard" members like Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
"There's no question that the country at large is divided philosophically," Hastings said. "And both political parties have factions in their party that don't see eye-to-eye. The differences between our party is largely on the degree and process of how you're going to accomplish an end."
Hastings credited younger members with capitalizing on unrest, principally in reaction to President Obama's health care legislation.
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That unrest helped Republicans regain control of the House of Representatives in 2010, he said.
"I don't see a schism (in the party)," he said. "What I see is a robust discussion about how we should be moving. ... If you want to see divisions in politics, you should look at the other party. I think sometimes they have more problems then we have."
Hastings got his loudest applause when he mentioned legislation he sponsored to allow public access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain. The bill passed the House by a 409-0 vote, but hasn't picked up a sponsor in the Senate.
Allowing people to go to the highest point in the Mid-Columbia would improve tourism, he said.
"If you add access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain, it just enhances what we have to offer here," he said.
Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, took issue with the president's 2009 decision to halt work on Yucca Mountain as repository for nuclear waste from Hanford and other sites around the country.
He also said it was wrong for the president to suspend implementation of the employer mandate in Obamacare earlier this summer -- even though Hastings opposes the law.
"My first thought was, 'What authority does the administration have to suspend the law?' " he said. "When you write laws, there are two huge, huge words, one is 'may' the other is 'shall.' One gives you flexibility, the other means you will do it. In Obamacare, it says 'these employer mandates shall be done.' What authority does this administration have to waive that?"
Hastings was awarded the "Spirit of Enterprise" award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at the end of the luncheon.
The luncheon was attended by 400 people at the Pasco Red Lion Hotel.
Dean Strawn of Kennewick, with National Maintenance Contractors, said Hastings was "talking my language."
"I think the congressman is very enlightened," Strawn said. "He knows what his constituency wants."
Franklin County Commissioner Bob Koch, one of many elected officials in the audience, said he appreciates the work Hastings does.
He praised his efforts on Rattlesnake Mountain access.
"I think he's spot on in everything he says," Koch said.
-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; email@example.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom