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Walden reaches out in telephone town hall
Congressional leader gives updates on a variety of topics including the Bowman Dam legislation and the “fiscal cliff”
December 10, 2012
About a month after winning another term, Congressional Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) held a town hall with people throughout Oregon’s vast second district – over the telephone.
Each year, Walden hosts town halls in each of the state’s 36 counties, but believes the telephone town halls provide unique advantages in reaching constituents.
“Some people prefer this way to communicate because it’s too difficult for them to attend the town halls I do in person,” he explained. “For others, the travel distance is too far, or they just aren’t comfortable in that kind of a setting. These telephone town halls are another effective way for me to hear from the people I work to represent in the Second District.”
Regarding local concerns, Walden provided an update on the Bowman Dam legislation, which awaits passage in Congress. Currently, a House Bill sponsored by Walden that enables a hydroelectric power plant on the dam and allocates 5,100 acre-feet of water to the City of Prineville, rests in the Senate after passing the House. A similar Senate bill that includes additional provisions for fish habitat, awaits action in the chamber’s Natural Resources Committee.
Walden addressed specific concerns with the Senate bill raised by Crook County residents regarding language they feel would allow the draining of Prineville Reservoir. He stressed that he and his staff have continued to meet with the staffs of Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) as well as the Bureau of Reclamation to resolve any lingering concerns.
“We are trying to find language that can make the corrections necessary to the bill,” he said. “The fastest thing, since the House bill is already in the Senate, is if we can reach agreement on that language . . . they can amend the House bill over there pretty rapidly and we can get this thing done.”
The town hall also generated a variety of topics including forest policy and health care, but concerns about the imminent fiscal cliff arose throughout the session. The “fiscal cliff” term refers to a variety of changes in current law that takes effect in January that will result in substantial tax hikes for American citizens. Since opening session after the November election, Congress has worked to come up with solutions to the problem.
One town hall participant, who led off the question and answer session told Walden that the primary problem with the crisis is government spending. She implored him and the rest of Congress to hold the line on spending as they come up with solutions.
“That is a message I am hearing loud and clearly from throughout the district,” Walden said. He noted that some of his colleagues want to raise the taxes of wealthier Americans, but he disagrees that will help.
“Washington doesn’t have a tax problem,” Walden stressed. “They have a spending problem, and they have to address the spending problem.”
He added that there are tax loopholes that Congress could close and subsidies they could consider cutting to reduce expenses.
Other town hall participants raised health care concerns, particularly given the ongoing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. One person stressed that Congress needs to address the escalating cost of Medicare, out of fear the program will eventually go broke.
In response, Walden suggested a reform strategy that would pass more costs onto the younger generation and keep the program going.
“Today’s seniors and near-seniors – those are 55 and over – they could stay on the existing program just fine,” he said, “but there are ways you can do reforms for the next generation that allows Medicare to be stable, funded, and available that could work.”
Participants also brought up forest policy concerns, with particular emphasis on freeing up natural resources to improve Oregon’s economy. One person wondered whether or not Congress could pave the way to auction off portions of federal land to help pay off the federal debt. In doing so, private companies would manage the forestland, generate jobs, and increase tax revenue.
Walden did not feel that the auction route would work very well. Unlike Oregon, which is made up of more than 60 percent federal land, most states east of the Mississippi River have only 9 percent or less land owned by the federal government. Consequently, Congress members representing those states would likely push back against any legislation that allowed such auctions to take place.
On the other hand, Walden did emphasize that he wants Congress to free up federal land to allow other entities to more effectively manage it and boost revenue in the process.
“Half the (U.S.) Forest Service budget now goes to fight fire every year,” he said. “It is a lot cheaper to manage and we can create jobs and revenue in our community and, oh by the way, help the forests.”
About 10 people participated in the approximately hour-long town hall meeting. Once time ran out, Walden asked those who had not received a chance to ask a question to leave a voice mail, which he would respond to later.