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Wyden: Budget can’t be fixed without addressing Medicare, Social Security
Senator Ron Wyden comes to Prineville last week for his annual open community meeting
Senator Ron Wyden spends some time answering questions from a local resident after the Town Hall Meeting Friday evening. This was Wyden’s 642nd town hall meeting since he was elected in 1996.
January 14, 2013
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) fielded a variety of topics and concerns at Friday’s annual Crook County Town Hall meeting.
At the beginning of the meeting, Wyden commented that this town hall was part of an ongoing pledge he made in 1996 when he was first elected. He said at that time that if he had the honor to be chosen as United States Senator to represent Oregon, he would have an open community meeting in every county in Oregon every year he served in the Senate. This was town hall meeting number 642.
“This is what our Founding Fathers wanted it to look like,” he indicated of the format of the forum. “You educate me on what’s important to you.”
The meeting was started by recognizing Korean War veterans. Local veteran Jim Roppe received a plaque of recognition on behalf of all local Korean War veterans.
“The reason I wanted to do this, is this is one way that we can say in our state, on our watch, for our veterans — particularly the Korean War veterans; they may call it the forgotten war in the news media and the like, but in Oregon, we are never, ever going to forget the contribution of our Korean war veterans,” said Wyden.
Local attendees of the forum were given a number when they came into the meeting, and numbers were drawn at random for comment.
John Shelk, the first number chosen, commended Wyden for his contribution for a timber contract that was negotiated on the Malheur Forest.
“I am really encouraged that this is going to be revolutionary way of managing our national forest,” he commented.
Wyden responded that it was the first-ever agreement between the timber folks in the east side of the mountains and the environment people.
“It was because John was willing to stick his neck out. There was a picture in the paper that a lot of us never thought we would see, and that was a picture of John Shelk next to Andy Kerr,” he noted.
Local resident Mel Harper brought forth the concern of the local forests being locked up.
“We need to open these things up, these forest lands are our lands that we fought and died for years and years ago — our ancestors did — and we have tried to improve them as we have went along,” said Harper. “I think we have done a pretty good job.”
He added that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are blocking roads that the loggers built and paid for.
Wyden commented that he came out against these closures early on.
“We said, look, you have to look at it fresh and bring some common sense to it,” he said.
On the Energy Natural Resource Committee that Wyden will be chairing, they will look at these road issues.
Another issue that was raised was that of legal and illegal immigration.
“That’s a non-controversial topic,” said Wyden sarcastically.
“The system is just broken,” he said with seriousness.” It doesn’t work for anyone — it doesn’t work for farmers. It doesn’t work for anyone that is associated with immigration — the system just doesn’t work. I think we have got to find a way to step back and adopt sensible changes — particularly for people who are undocumented or illegal.”
Wyden believes that what Congress in the upcoming session should adopt is not very different than what George W. Bush and the late Ted Kennedy talked about before it went off the rail. He said that we have to have better security at the border. He added that we have to enforce the laws on the books. Finally, Wyden said that knowingly hiring someone who an employer knows is illegal should result in consequences or penalties to the employer.
“That is the first three parts of the discussion. Point number four is, what do you do about the 10 million-plus people who are in the United States now — undocumented, which means they are here illegally?”
Wyden went on to say that there should be a period of time set aside for illegal immigrants to come forward voluntarily and pay a fine for breaking the law. They should have to demonstrate that they have mastered English and show that they have not broken any other laws, other than coming to the U.S. illegally.
“I personally, would favor those people being given the opportunity to go to the end of the citizenship line to become citizens.”
Craig Brookhart, Chairman for the Central Oregon Patriots, said that his group struggled with what to ask, because there are many issues they are concerned about. He emphasized that they are especially concerned about issues that seem to constitute a real threat to the United States Constitution.
“The government seems to be overreaching on every boundary,” said Brookhart. “It just seems that every day when we see the news and see what’s going on, our Constitution is being threatened.”
Wyden quoted Bend Franklin, who said, “Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.”’
He added that America is at its best when we have a keen sense of right and responsibility. He referred to the Constitutional Amendments, and brought up the subject of gun control and freedom of speech.
“I have three children under six, one under five weeks old. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror of what those parents (in Connecticut) felt, of all their hopes and aspirations shattered in one school day.
“If you commit a crime with a gun, you should face a very stiff penalty. I wrote the law that says that if you have a prior and you commit an additional crime with a gun, you are going away for a long time — no parole, no nothing.”
Wyden also noted that a big part of the issue is recognizing that those who have mental health issues are falling through the cracks. After Connecticut, he believes that more needs to be done to deal with the responsibility side of the issue. He also believes that more needs to be done in dealing with background checks and database issues.
“There is no reason at a time when we have the kind of technology that we have, that we can’t get these background checks in the databases right, so we are not selling dangerous weapons to people who are mentally disturbed and have security problems.”
As for personal responsibility, Wyden also stressed that gun owners need to store their weapons properly.
On the topic of Social Security, Wyden said that he has proposed a major set of reforms to the Medicare program with Paul Ryan.
“You would have thought that Western civilization was going to end when a Democrat was talking to the key point person for Republicans for Medicare,” he quipped.
He said that the reason why he was willing to address the topic in a bi-partisan way was because you can’t be serious about the budget and deal with the deficit without addressing Medicare and Social Security. Calling it the demographic tsunami, he gave the projection of 10,000 people turning 65 years of age every day for the next 20 years.
Wyden said there are three big events coming up by the end of March, including the vote on the debt ceiling, the budget sequestration, and the continuing resolution.
“Each one will be a real test to see if people are serious about what you talking about.”
He is hoping for a lot of bi-partisan support.
Other issues that were addressed included unemployment and jobs, fracking, and drilling for oil in the United States, the possibility of flat-rate taxes, and the issue of wrestling and sports programs being cut in the schools in Oregon.
Wyden concluded with a comment about the tradition of the town hall meetings throughout the state in each county.
“As long as I have the honor to represent you, this is the way we will do it.”