Dear Fellow Oregonian,
As always, it's great to update you on my recent activities both in Oregon and in Washington, D.C. Today we completed another long week of legislative business and although I normally would be heading back to Oregon to round out my weekly commute, this weekend my family is traveling to D.C. now that the school year has ended so we can spend a few weekend days enjoying the nation's capital together before we return to session on Monday.
Last Sunday while I was back in Oregon I was able to participate in a Flag Day Celebration in Hood River sponsored by the Hood River Elks. At the celebration, I presented the Elks with a flag flown over the United States Capitol in their honor. On Flag Day, we are reminded of what our nation's flag symbolizes not only to us, but to the rest of the world. Every time I see our flag and when we say the Pledge of Allegiance before beginning work each day in Washington, D.C., I think of the freedom, democracy and unity we cherish in the United States and the sacrifices made to establish and sustain our way of life.
Before I made it home to Hood River after last week's work in D.C., I joined Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, and several of my colleagues from districts in Washington for an official congressional field hearing on programs in the Farm Bill that was held in Yakima, Washington. The 2002 Farm Bill is set to expire and we have begun work on its reauthorization. I had requested a regional field hearing in the Northwest of the Committee so the chairman and committee members could hear firsthand about the unique issues facing the agriculture community in our area. If you are interested in reading testimony offered by witnesses at the hearing, including Ron Rivers, a pear producer from Parkdale, Oregon, and Sharon Livingston, president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, from Long Creek, Oregon, you may do so by clicking here. Having grown up on a Cherry Orchard in The Dalles, I understand the important role agriculture plays in our rural communities and economy. The Agriculture Committee has put a feature on their website that allows you to submit comments and feedback about farm programs and reauthorization of the Farm Bill. If you have thoughts you would like to share, I encourage you to fill out their form, available here, and, of course, feel free to contact me at any time.
During the last couple of weeks, I have met with residents who are in the nation's capital from all parts of the district. These meetings, and various congressional meetings I've been involved in throughout the last couple of weeks, have covered a broad range of issues including methamphetamine, energy, veterans affairs, the military and support for our troops, education, health care, broadcasting, immigration and many others. During the last two weeks, the president of Latvia spoke to a joint session of Congress and I had meetings with Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director John Walters and was at the White House for an event where I was able to visit with the President.
We received fantastic news last week after House and Senate members from the Northwest successfully worked together to see that language was passed by the Congress preventing the Administration from implementing a program that would raise rates on Northwest power customers through a proposal that would unfairly and negatively impact the Bonneville Power Administration. As co-chair of the bipartisan Northwest Energy Caucus and vice chair of the bipartisan House Renewable Energy Caucus, I have been very active in efforts to prevent this administrative proposal targeting our region. I am very pleased to see that the House and Senate approved this legislation protecting consumers in the Northwest.
Deschutes County Commissioner Bev Clarno was in D.C. this week on a mission for not only her county, but for counties throughout the country, to help build support and advocate for reauthorization of the critical county payments legislation. I have been working in close bipartisan fashion with Congressman Peter DeFazio and Oregon's senators to see that this program, which underscores a century-old commitment made by the federal government to rural communities and schools, is reauthorized and funded. I was happy to set up several meetings with members of the House, Senate and Executive Branch for Commissioner Clarno while she was here. This issue remains one of my top priorities and I will continue to work diligently on it.
Another issue I will remain focused on is that of reducing America's dependence on foreign oil. This is a complex issue that must be addressed through a variety of efforts including development of alternative and renewable fuels, increased conservation efforts, increased refining capacity here in America, and looking at domestic resources. The House Resources Committee, of which I'm a member, held a hearing this week on taking a look at the outer continental shelf for natural gas and oil. These resources can be reached through safe and environmentally conscious methods and, most importantly, coastal stateslike ourswould have the opportunity to decide on their own if exploration or resource extraction could take place off their individual coastlines (activity would be 125 miles off the coast, so nothing anyone could see). There is certainly no silver bullet to reducing gas prices, reducing the cost of fertilizer and reducing our dependence on foreign countries for oil, but we have to be open minded about our options and I believe that part of this must be taking a look at our own resources.
Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted on an important piece of legislation to help improve health care delivery in rural areas through the enhancement of information technology. Advancements in technology provide a tremendous opportunity for all types of industries, but especially health care, where patient records and imaging play such a critical role in diagnosis and treatment. I did offer an amendment to this legislation that would have established a grant program to help rural, frontier and isolated communitieslike many of those throughout central, southern and eastern Oregongain access to the capital needed to purchase IT equipment, which is often costly. Health care providers in rural areas serve fewer patients over larger geographic stretches, and coming up with the money to pay for expensive equipment and technology is often very difficult. Unfortunately, the amendment failed by a very close vote, but I am encouraged by efforts in the House to improve IT and, as co-chair of the bipartisan House Rural Health Care Coalition, I will continue to look at ways to ensure rural America keeps pace in these efforts.
Last night the Congress took a dinner break from what are traditionally very late nights of votes to join the President and First Lady at the annual White House Congressional Picnic. This event is always an official highlight of the year, and provides an outstanding forum for me to conduct a lot of business for Oregon. This bipartisan affair brings members of the House and Senate together, along with their families, to join the President and his Cabinet on the south lawn of the White House for a few hours in a relaxing setting with no specific agenda other than providing a forum for camaraderie. I joined the picnic table of Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and his family. We had a great talk about the Farm Bill and forestry matters under the department's jurisdiction (the Forest Service is a division of the Department of Agriculture). I was then able to catch up at length with many of my House and Senate colleagues on both sides of the political aisle as we waited to mingle with the President. Although, this time of year in D.C. normally brings hot temperatures and high humidity, this week has been unseasonably comfortable so the picnic setting at the White House was great.
I was honored last week to receive the Americans' for Tax Reform "Hero of the Taxpayer" Award, which they presented to me at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol. As a small business owner for over twenty years in Oregon with my wife and as someone who remains committed to making sure Americans are able to keep more of their hard-earned money (since you, after all, know best how your own money should be spent), I appreciated being recognized for these efforts. You can view my press release and a picture from the ceremony here.
As I mentioned in my last newsletter, an issue of great concern that we've been hearing a lot about lately is that of data security when it comes to data held by federal agencies and departments. The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking steps to ensure that veterans and their spouses have access to resources they might need as a result of the theft of millions of records. And most importantly, the Secretary is taking a close look at changes in agency operations that need to be made as a result of that situation. Unfortunately, during a hearing I attended last Thursday in the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, of which I'm vice chair, we talked about cyber security issues facing another agency: the Department of Energy (DOE). Obviously, security issues at all agencies are important, but given the nature of the DOE's work, there is a serious need for exceptionally tight protocols on data and information. This troubling trend of security and data leaks has caused us to take a close look at these issues and how they relate to the common practice in today's workplaces of telecommuting. I will continue to talk with the Administration about these issues and the Subcommittee will continue to investigate any and all problems that may arise to ensure that America and Americans are not put at risk.
There is a lot going on both in Oregon and the nation's capital, and I look forward to updating you further on legislation, activities and events I'm involved in and, as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.