Health & Science

Hastings vows to protect dams

U.S. Rep Doc Hastings put his foot down at a Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce lunch on Wednesday.

The Pasco Republican vowed he will do everything he can to stop the Snake River dams from being removed, to prevent funding for Hanford cleanup from being reduced and to stop Democrats' health care reforms from being passed as they currently stand.

Health care was at the forefront of audience members' minds, with most of the questions voicing fears about the prospect of a government-run, single-payer system.

Multiple proposals were left pending in Congress before lawmakers returned home in August, and since the recess began, rhetoric over a public option for health insurance has reached a fever pitch.

Opponents of the bills have stormed Democrat-sponsored town hall meetings across the country, and Democrats have responded by asking supporters to flood their representatives' offices with calls and letters asking them to vote in favor.

Although none of the bills create a single-payer system, Hastings said he thinks a public option subsidized by tax dollars will undercut private insurers and eventually drive them out of business, leaving consumers with no option but government-funded care.

"I truly do believe it will lead to a government-run health care system, and that runs contrary to what America is about," he said to applause from the crowd of about 200.

Hastings said he sees some need to improve the nation's health care system, but believes the best way to do so is by offering consumers more choices.

Hastings listed his concerns about Democrats' reform proposals, including the estimated $1 trillion price tag, the specter of increased taxes and cuts to Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals.

He also mentioned the oft-repeated fear that the plan will include mandatory euthanasia counseling for seniors.

"The biggest issue is the euthanasia part of this," Hastings said in response to a question about how reform proposals will affect seniors. "If they are mandated to have euthanasia consulting ... I'm not for anything mandatory."

Claims the House health care bill includes a provision mandating that doctors talk to elderly patients about euthanasia options have become a focal point for opponents in recent weeks, circulating on conservative talk radio and in blogs.

According to the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.org website, the claims originated with Betsy McCaughey, former Republican lieutenant governor of New York.

She cited page 425 of the bill dealing with end-of-life planning, claiming it means seniors will be told how to end their lives.

But the Annenberg center analyzed that provision in the bill and found it actually refers to planning for the kind of health care someone will get in the final years of their life.

Counseling every five years would be optional, and would include conversations about creating living wills and powers of attorney and options for hospice care in the case of a terminal illness - but not euthanasia.

AARP similarly dismissed the euthanasia argument in a July 24 news release, saying McCaughey's claims were "rife with gross - and even cruel - distortions."

On the Snake River dams, Hastings said as ranking minority member of the House Natural Resources Committee, he'll fight to bar their removal.

A wild salmon and steelhead restoration bill introduced just before the congressional recess by Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash, and Tom Petri, R-Wis., calls for a study of the environmental, infrastructure and economic issues associated with removing the four Lower Snake River dams.

The bill, called the Salmon Solutions and Planning Act, would require the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, and Department of Energy to take a look at the controversial issue.

Supporters of the legislation said it would help evaluate all options for salmon recovery and assess the impact of dam removal for transportation, energy, and irrigation in the region.

Hastings said the bill would give the president authority to remove the dams and without approval from Congress.

"I will do everything I can to ensure that legislation does not move anywhere," he said.

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