Republican Congressman Doc Hastings, Washington'ês invisible man during this year'ês health reform battle, announced in a news release that he would talk about the House-passed health care and climate-change bills during a factory visit in Yakima County on Monday. But the eight-term Pasco representative, whose 4th District of Eastern and Central Washington includes some of the state's least insured population, came and left without addressing the volatile issues.
Before donning protective glasses and booties for the plant tour in Union Gap, Hastings gave no indication that he was going to speak about any issues. He didn'êt even acknowledge the presence of two reporters and a photographer. He listened as Pexco plant manager Martin Streich described Pexco'ês business, and asked a few questions. The plant, part of an Atlanta-based company, makes plastic components for commercial aircraft. It employs about 150 people, down from about 200 a year ago.
While other Washington and Oregon members of Congress held health town hall forums this summer and braved sometimes-raucous crowds, Hastings held none. While Democratic Sens. Maria Cantwell and Ron Wyden took leadership positions in favor of comprehensive health reform — and Republican Rep. Dave Reichert took an outspoken stand against it — Hastings laid low, keeping characteristically quiet.
After the 15-minute plant tour, reporters waited, notebooks ready, for Hastings to address health reform and climate change as promised. But he abruptly announced that he had to leave. I asked him whether he would take questions. Looking annoyed, he replied that he was there only to discuss what the Pexco officials wanted to talk about.
After Hastings left, it turned out Streich did want to talk about health care. The company, which provides health coverage for its plant employees and picks up about three-quarters of the cost, is facing a 28 percent cost jump this year. Asked for his thoughts on the bills in Congress, Streich said he didn'êt know enough to comment. 'êBut something'ês got to be done,'ê he said.
On Hastings'ê website, the congressman says he favors the usual package of limited Republican health care changes, including expanding tax-free medical savings accounts, allowing small businesses to band together to buy insurance, and capping pain-and-suffering damages in medical malpractice suits.