Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
I write this from Oregon (after completing my 348th roundtrip home) and with Congress now adjourned for the next five weeks. On Saturday I hit the road in the district, attending several events in Central Oregon, and throughout August and early September, I'll work my way around to many more places.
While it's easy to complain about a Congress that has accomplished little (which is the case) there are a couple of measures that did make progress that show bipartisanship is not totally dead a real relief as bipartisanship is needed to actually pass legislation.
ENERGY AND COUNTY PAYMENTS. Friday I and nearly three dozen of my House colleagues introduced legislation that would accomplish three major goals for our state and nation. First, it would open access to America's great energy reserves in the deep ocean. Second, it uses revenues generated from new leases, royalty payments and the like to invest in renewable energy production, conservation, and assistance to low income people to help with home heating costs. Third, it pays for five years of county roads and schools payments and fully funds Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). As of today, 69 county commissioners from 27 Oregon counties have already endorsed the bill, H.R. 6779, the Security and Energy or America Act (SEA Act). It's time for America to regain access to its own oil and gas reserves rather than sending $700 billion a year to foreign governments and cartels whose environmental standards often don't come close to ours. And it's time to get secure funding sources for development and production of alternative energy, conservation and county roads and schools.
Here's what the SEA Act would accomplish:
* Five-year commitment to county payments and PILT, starting this coming fall
* 10-year revenue stream for production of geothermal, wave, wind, solar, biomass, hydropower, and cellulosic energy production
* Heating assistance for low-income Americans
* Program to convert three million gas guzzlers to efficient natural gas or gas-electric hybrid vehicles
* Investments in high schools, career technology programs, community colleges, universities, and job training programs
* On- and offshore fish and wildlife habitat enhancement
* Unconventional energy production research
* Expand state coastal authority for unprecedented state control over offshore energy decisions
* Reduction of the national budget deficit
You can get all the details regarding this legislation by clicking here.
HIGHER EDUCATION. Congress sent the President a major overhaul of the federal higher education system. While I have some concern about more regulations on our colleges and universities, overall the bill makes sense. It increases Pell Grant authorizations from $4,800 to $6,000 in 2009 going to $8,000 by 2014. It greatly simplifies the student loan form (this should not require an act of Congress to do, but it did!). The financial aid form presently is eight pages and 108 questions. This law reduces it to two pages and 44 questions. It requires lenders to more fully disclose to student loan recipients all charges, fees and penalties. It also requires more disclosure of textbook costs so that students know the real costs they face when they choose a class. (With our son heading off to college in a couple of weeks, these issues have hit home with "great clarity," especially the part about the cost of higher education!) Get all the specifics on this bill by clicking here.
FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION. The Senate Finance Committee was scheduled Friday to take up legislation reauthorizing a law that provides incentives to states to encourage adoptions out of the foster care system. The House passed a similar reauthorization measure earlier this year. Still a ways to go to get a bill to the President before the law expires at the end of the year, but progress is being made.
CELL PHONES ON PLANES? The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed a bill to ban use of cell phones on airplanes during flights. Some foreign countries allow fliers to talk on their phones as they travel through the skies. I can't imagine anything worse that a plane full of cell phone talkers for six hours. I'll be supporting HR 5758 when it comes to the Floor.
FUNDING FOR VETERANS. On Thursday and Friday the House debated and approved the appropriations bill to fund military construction and veterans programs. It's been more than 20 years since the House has done so little on appropriations matters. This measure is just one of the 11 appropriations bills needed to fund the government. And now, we're on a five-week break, leaving very little time to deal with the other bills during the less than three weeks Congress is scheduled to be in session in September before the fiscal year ends. Neither party has had a stellar record in getting the appropriations work done on time. But this is the worst I've seen.
On substance, the measure is solid and provides the support the men and women who wear, or have worn, our nation's uniform deserve and need. It will allow the VA to hire roughly 2,100 additional claims processors to work down the backlog of benefits claims and reduce the time to process new claims. For our veterans who live in rural areas, here's some welcome news (and an issue I've been working on for a while): the bill would increase the gas mileage reimbursement rate from 28.5 cents to 41 cents per mile for veterans traveling to and from appointments for medical care.
CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE. Last week I cosponsored the SCHIP Full Funding Extension Act. The bill would fund the State Children's Health Insurance Plan per the current program standards in each state through Sept. 30, 2011. One big plus about this plan is that it provides states with assurances for their state budgets for a few years down the road. The current SCHIP authorization will expire in March 2009, and if Congress does not act to extend the program before state legislatures meet and adjourn in early 2009, states may have to cut their SCHIP programs assuming that it will expire on March 31, 2009. A multi-year extension will ensure that states are not left in a lurch in March 2009 in case the new Congress and administration are slow to pick up this issue next year.
MORE ENERGY. On Friday, I spoke out on the House floor with my colleagues to protest the majority's decision to recess for five weeks without taking any meaningful action to address energy prices. I know I'll be hearing about the cost of energy all month as I travel around the Second District, as the rest of my colleagues. It's just a shame that we'll be talking about the Congress doing nothing. For example, of the 106 laws that this Congress has enacted so far this year:
* 30 percent were to name government building or lands
* 19 percent were to extend already existing laws or make technical corrections to existing laws
* 40 percent were so uncontroversial that they passed either without a recorded vote in the House or with fewer than 10 votes in opposition.
If the Speaker does not call us back into session this month to pass comprehensive energy legislation (like the SEA Act), then I hope at the very least she'll allow us to have a vote when we return in September. That's all we want, and I think that's what the American people want too (according to a recent CNN poll, it's what 73 percent of Americans want).
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Member of Congress