This editorial appeared in Thursday's Anchorage Daily News:
Heading into President Bush's second term in office, U.S. Rep. Don Young is showing his trademark independence. The three-decade House veteran and the president both won overwhelming support from Alaska voters in November, and Rep. Young's party loyalty is beyond doubt. But on three major subjects, Rep. Young differs from his president with a respectful but important dissent.
First, and most important, Rep. Young doesn't buy the president's cry of Social Security "crisis." As both the Congressional Budget Office and Social Security trustees have indicated, the system can pay full benefits, using surpluses currently accumulating, until 2042. "I think there's the possibility of a problem 45 years from now," says Rep. Young.
Rep. Young is skeptical of the president's Social Security "solution" - partial privatization - as well. "I don't want Wall Street involved in this," he says, noting the higher risk with private investments. Rep. Young suggests Congress instead improve incentives for existing individual retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s. Those tax-deductible savings, already $2.3 trillion and growing, should complement rather than drain money from the Social Security system.
Second, Rep. Young is ahead of the president on fiscal matters. From his Transportation Committee chairmanship, Rep. Young is pushing hard for major transportation investments - and he's willing to pay for them with a gas tax hike. That's responsible, in contrast with a president who insists on funding his priorities by putting them on the national credit card and using the Social Security surplus.
Finally, the two differ on the Patriot Act. Rep. Young is concerned that the nation already has traded off too many civil liberties in the fight against terrorism. He has criticized the provision allowing secret searches of a person's bookstore and library records. President Bush wants a second Patriot Act giving the government even broader powers to investigate and detain suspects. President Bush has asserted the radical notion that his administration can imprison a person indefinitely, possibly for life, without trial or judicial review, simply by filing certain terrorism charges.
Rep. Young's independence fits a long tradition in Alaska politics. Perhaps the most famous example came during the mid-1960s, when Democrats controlled the presidency and Congress. Alaska Democrat Ernest Gruening was one of only two U.S. senators to vote against the resolution President Lyndon Johnson used to justify a full-scale war in Vietnam. History revealed the wisdom of Sen. Gruening's skepticism.
In 2004, Republicans control both the White House and Congress. One-party rule creates a climate in which policies lack serious critique. Congress needs independent-minded members unafraid to challenge their own party's president, and Alaskans can be glad for Rep. Young's willingness.