Congressman backs president on the war, Social Security reform | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Congressman backs president on the war, Social Security reform

Amanda Fehd

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on Lake Tahoe’s congressional representative, John Doolittle. Thursday’s article covered the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the U.S. Forest Service.

On a visit to South Lake Tahoe this week, U.S. Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, expressed confidence in the war in Iraq and President Bush’s plan to reform Social Security, and fleshed out solutions to what he called a “huge problem” with illegal immigration.

A day before the 70th anniversary of Social Security on Thursday, Doolittle said a campaign to raise support for the president’s plan to reform the program was not bearing fruit because Democrats “hate it and trash it” and the national media amplifies that and downplays the benefits to personal accounts.

“Democrats, for one thing, feel like they own Social Security; they feel like FDR created it, (that) this is their program and they’ll be darned if they are going to let Republicans get any credit for fixing it,” Doolittle said.

The most recent plan is to scale back the president’s proposal. That plan would restrict using Social Security dollars to prop up other programs like defense spending, which Doolittle said had been done for decades.

Meanwhile, president-elect of the AARP Erik Olsen, who lives at Lake Tahoe, said Thursday that the organization is not opposed to a solution which makes Social Security solvent, but does not support personal accounts that would divert funds from the present system.

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“Social Security is the best social program that ever existed and we want it available for our children and for our grandchildren,” Olsen said. Before it was enacted, more than 50 percent of elderly people lived in poverty. Now it’s 10 percent, which is still too much, Olsen said. He pointed out that Social Security also takes care of the mentally and physically disabled and widowed people.

“That’s the essence of civilized society, isn’t it?” Olsen said.

The AARP supports investing a portion of funds already in Social Security to achieve a greater return, as well as raising the income limit on those who must pay Social Security taxes, which now stands at $90,000.

“You couldn’t raise enough taxes to solve Social Security’s problems, you have to increase the rate of return,” Doolittle said.

The AARP does not deny there is a problem.

“It’s been successful for 70 years and with proper tweaking of the program it will be successful for another 70,” Olsen said.

Illegal immigration

President Bush told Republican congressmen before their summer break that illegal immigration would be one of the administration’s top agenda items come September, Doolittle said. He didn’t know the specifics of what the president would propose, but had his own ideas for solutions.

“The key to solving the immigration problem is better border enforcement and having an effective guest worker program that allows labor to come,” Doolittle said.

He said it does not make sense to provide free health care, education and social assistance to people who don’t pay taxes.

But Sylvia Ambriz, executive director of the Kings Beach Family Resource Center, said many illegals are now paying taxes and taking advantage of individual taxpayer identification numbers, which takes the place of a Social Security number when it comes to filling out IRS forms.

“We provided tax preparation this year and 80 percent of them were illegal and had to utilize the identification number,” said Ambriz. “I know they are trying to stay within the legal realms of being a good citizen.”

Doolittle acknowledged the importance of immigrant labor, but it’s not only American taxpayers who are losing out, it’s the immigrants as well, he said.

“We should commend them if anything for having what would be a righteous desire to take care of their families,” Doolittle said. “I just want to keep it regulated so the taxpayers are treated fairly and so these people are treated fairly.”

Ambriz confirmed that life for an illegal immigrant is very challenging here and often people do not ever blend in with their community. She did not know what the best solution would be, but those she’s spoken with about the issue have expressed the desire for an expanded work visa program.

Contrary to popular perception, many people make the dangerous journey back and forth across the border at least once a year, she said. Safety is a big concern and if they could do it legally, they could do it more safely as well.

South Lake Tahoe’s population is 30 percent Hispanic, according to the most recent census.

Iraq war

Doolittle expressed continued support for the war in Iraq.

“The Iraqis, even though they are the ones volunteering to be police and in the army, are the ones being killed, but they are lining up to volunteer to do that work,” Doolittle said. “It means they are willing to die to achieve their freedom and that’s a good situation.”

More than 26,000 civilians have been reported killed since the war started, according to a report this week by the BBC.

When asked if taking the war on terrorism to Iraq was fair to Iraqi civilians, Doolittle did not waver.

“I think that would be like saying Word War II was unfair to France or Britain,” Doolittle said. “They were fighting for their freedom, we relieved them of a terrible dictator, they seem very happy about that.

“Far from being unfair to the people of Iraq, we’ve bestowed several hundred billion dollars worth of taxpayer expense for a real opportunity, the first in decades, for some self-determination.”

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