Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Fall greetings to you, although it's a bit early by Mother Nature's clock seeing that she officially begins the fall season at 9:03 pm PDT on Friday, September 22 (I hope that trivia comes in handy for you!). But for most, Labor Day marks the end of the traditional summer season and with that many vacations must end and for those with children pencils must be sharpened and book bags dusted off.
Labor Day also marks the end of the annual August District Work Period in Congress. During this time we wrap up the hectic session of July and most Members of Congress flee the hot and humid temperatures of our nation's capital and return to their home district. At least that's what I did, and I always use the month to spend a lot of time with people throughout central, southern and eastern Oregon to hear what's on their minds and see how I can help. This period allows a welcome break from my weekly cross-country trips to Washington, D.C., and meeting extensively with residents in the gorgeous Second Congressional District during August is something I always look forward to. My "to do" list that I take back to Washington, D.C. always gets refreshed well during the District Work Periods. During August, I traveled more than 2,200 miles throughout central, southern and eastern Oregon and visited with residents in numerous forums in 12 counties in the Second District. You can read below to learn a bit more about some of my visits last month.
Yesterday I boarded a plane to begin my 280th roundtrip to our nation's capital since first being elected. To date, the roundtrips are the equivalent of orbiting the earth over 52 times (for those of you keeping track!). When people used to ask me how often I return to Oregon, I'd jokingly tell them the number of trips I've made and say "that's XX number of times I've had to answer the question chicken or beef?'," but with the cutbacks by the airlines the airline meal often isn't an option anymore and I'm happy if they deliver a cold cup of water to passengers. The weekly plane rides involving 3,000 miles and a three hour time zone change each way aren't my favorite, but they are well worth it to be able to get home to Oregon each week.
Please read on to learn more about my recent visits throughout Oregon, and what we're addressing this week in the House.
On the Oregon Trail
I headed home to Oregon at the end of July fresh from our success in seeing my colleagues in the House of Representatives lend their unanimous support to the Mount Hood Stewardship Legacy Act (HR 5025). I wrote this bill with my friend and colleague from Portland, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, and together we crafted a bipartisan, locally written and widely supported plan to protect the special places on Mt. Hood for future generations to enjoy, while working to improve access, recreation, forest health and watersheds. We spent three years developing this bill, and this involved numerous forums with the general public and stakeholders on the mountain. Earl and I even backpacked 41 miles around the mountain last summer to learn everything we could about it and met with many involved groups and people along the way. Suffice it to say it was a very long process involving many compromises, revisions, and open discussions.
The process of developing our legislation was as gratifying as it was long, and we're grateful for the input we received from the public and stakeholder groups, and we're very proud of the product born from extensive teamwork among Oregonians. So, I spent a lot of the first part of August answering questions about our success in the House. Later in August, Senators Smith and Wyden from Oregon announced their intention to introduce their own Mt Hood legislation and they introduced it last week. While Congressman Blumenauer and I strongly support our bill, our priority is to see solid Mt. Hood legislation enacted into law this year and we've pledged to try to help our senators get a bill passed in the Senate before the Congress completes this session. We're currently working with the stakeholders (with whom we worked for three years to develop our bill) to get their opinion on the new Senate bill and will keep doing our part to help our senators.
The month of August brought loss and remembrance to all Oregonians, as two of our country's finest citizens lost their lives in the conflict in Iraq. The ultimate sacrifice was made by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Lee of Hood River, and Marine Lance Corporal Randy Newman of Bend. I attended their memorial services last month, and was honored to be asked by their families to speak to the enormous group of friends, family and loved ones. There is no more solemn occasion among Americans than laying to rest one our fallen patriots. As Americans have done since the Revolution, we stood humbled as we saluted two more young men who had given "the last full measure of devotion."
Marc Lee was just 28 years old. Randy Newman was just 21 years old. While every American loss is a tragedy, our grief is especially acute when a young life so full of promise ends before its time. But while Marc's and Randy's youth deepens our sense of loss, it also magnifies our gratitude for their sacrifice. In their short lives, Marc and Randy left a mark that will never be erased. They filled their families with happiness. They served our country. And they stood side by side with their fellow soldiers against America's enemies. As we said goodbye to Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Lee and Lance Corporal Randy Newman, we prayed that their families and all who knew and loved them find comfort in the gratitude felt by the entire nation on the day of their memorials.
Following is a sampling of other events I participated in around our district last month:
I had the honor of helping deliver good news in the form of a $1 million federal direct loan to the Harney County Health District. The federal investment is part of a Community Facility Direct Loan to help pay for material and construction labor costs. The Harney District Hospital is constructing a new Critical Access Area Hospital thanks to a previous $12 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development division, and this money will allow them to complete construction of a two-story, 51,000 square feet facility that adds 25 beds and allows greater handicapped access, patient care, and privacy. As the co-chairman of the bipartisan Rural Health Coalition, I was very happy to be able to assist and support this effort. Jim Bishop, the Administrator of the Harney County Health District, and his employees are doing fantastic work and it's these sorts of facilities that will help meet the medical needs of the people living in rural areas in eastern Oregon and across the Second District.
Another highlight of August was a chance to see the progress made on the Powder River Water Quality Enhancement Project in Baker County. I toured this with landowners and many other federal and state agencies involved. Jan Kerns, a rancher in Baker County and Oregon Department of Agriculture board member, and Tim Kerns, chair of the Baker Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, initiated a fantastic and educational tour. This massive undertaking, which includes 19 miles of mainline piping, involves the removal of approximately 7,000 head of cattle from access to the Powder River, while installing 10 miles of riparian improvements, 110 watering troughs, and riparian and cross fencing. It's a great example of how compromise, and a voluntary one at that, can produce a suitable solution for cattle ranchers that also preserves river conditions and enhancing fish habitats.
In Deschutes County, I participated in an extensive Conservation Listening Tour with the Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, and other federal officials. This forum was held at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond and attracted a large crowd for over five hours of public input. The Secretary wanted to come to central Oregon to receive input from the public in an "open microphone" forum. The public was very patient as it took some time for some to get to the microphone, and participated with enthusiasm. I filled many pages of notes, as did the Secretary, about what's working well in current conservation programs and where some help could be delivered. Later that day, I received a briefing from the U.S. Forest Service in Sisters about the Black Crater Fire and surrounding fires, and then toured the Black Crater site to get a first-hand look at the damage done and to discuss what can be done to quickly begin repairing the torched landscape.
In Klamath County, I attended and spoke at a fantastic event to dedicate the new Crater Lake Park Science and Learning Center. For those of you longing to get to the park, you have all the more reason to do so now (not that great reasons didn't exist before this new center was dedicated). Park Superintendent Chuck Lundy has done a tremendous job with his team and the Crater Lake Park Foundation to make this new center a reality. It's going to be a great resource for all ages and all visitors for many years to come.
From your nation's capital
Last week we began what is likely to be the final month of full legislative activity before the elections this year. Much has been accomplished this Congress, but much work remains and our return to session last week after Labor Day involved an industrious start.
I began last week by introducing a major piece of health care legislation that aims to greatly benefit rural communities. I, along with Congressman Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), my co-chair of the 182-member bipartisan Rural Health Care Coalition, introduced H.R. 6030, the Health Care Access and Rural Equity Act (H-CARE) on Wednesday, September 6.
This bipartisan piece of legislation, which now features over 70 co-sponsors, is a comprehensive bill that makes several improvements to our nation's health care infrastructure to help rural health care providers address the unique challenges associated with delivering quality health care close to home. We unveiled this legislation with many of our colleagues at our side as well as over a dozen representatives from health care organizations across the country. The H-CARE bill enjoys strong support from health care organizations throughout Oregon too. We're off to a good start in terms of support and will remain diligent in moving this through the legislative process. I'll keep you posted as the bill progresses.
This week brings much focus to the critical "county payments" law. Over 200 commissioners from across the country, including more than 35 from Oregon, descended upon Washington, D.C. last night to canvass Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers on the importance of this program. Rural county roads and schools depend on it. The Congress needs to reauthorize this program soon, and help identify revenue sources to fund it. I have sponsored the legislation to reauthorize this program, and Congressman Peter DeFazio is my lead co-sponsor.
This morning, I joined the Oregon commissioners at a special early morning meeting at the White House. Congressman DeFazio and Senator Wyden also joined us. At this meeting, I delivered the very good news that the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) replied to my request regarding how much revenue my Forest Emergency Recovery & Research Act (FERRA) would produce and be able to be made available to fund the county payments program. OMB formally noted that FERRA would produce $130 million over ten years which could help fund the county payments program - great news! FERRA passed the House with strong bipartisan support this spring, and is awaiting action in the Senate so I hope the Senate decides to pass it soon. Forest and community health will benefit if it does, and the county payments program can receive a much-needed source of revenue at the same time. This news about FERRA as a source of funding for county payments builds upon the $250 million over five years for the program that Congressman DeFazio and I were able to include in the Deep Ocean Energy Resources Act which recently passed the House. The Senate did not include similar funding in their bill, but we still have a chance to preserve it in a joint House-Senate conference committee and we're working hard to do that. As noted at this morning's meeting at the White House, full funding for the county payments program will likely be built like a quilt - patch by patch - and we're starting to find patches and piece them together.
Tomorrow, the Forests and Forest Health Subcommittee which I chair will be holding a hearing on a number of bills focused on the bark beetle infestation problem, and we've had a number of other hearings the past two weeks ranging from the health of the Alaska pipeline to reauthorization of hydroelectric facilities. You can access links below to find much detail on hearings in Congress and specifics about what is on the House and Senate floor this week.
In addition to the scheduled hearings and votes, I continue to spend a lot of my time meeting with Oregonians who've come to our nation's capital for business or pleasure. Spending time with folks from home while they are in Washington, D.C. is always a lot of fun, and keeps me posted on what's important to them.
As always, it's an honor to serve you in the United States Congress. I welcome your input, and encourage you to call one of my offices if we can ever be of help. My contact information follows. Thank you for taking the time to read my newsletter!
Member of Congress
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