Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
Before heading back out to Oregon for a busy weekend including a celebration for a new cell tower going up in Wheeler County (which I'll tell you more about below), I wanted to give you a quick update on what I've been up to in the Second District and the nation's capital over the past couple weeks.
It's fire season. Over the weekend in Oregon I had the opportunity to watch firefighters put out a grass fire west of The Dalles and watch a forest fire blow up south of Mt. Adams. Both are stark reminders that fire season has arrived in the Northwest. It's also a reminder that scientists predict we will have even more overstocked, dried out forests in the years to come if the planet continues to warm, making it all the more necessary to change federal law to allow more active stewardship of our great forest reserves.
Last week, the House passed legislation I backed which would set up a separate account within the Forest Service to pay for fire fighting costs. In the past, the Forest Service would grab money wherever it could be found to pay fire fighting costs, then Congress would replace the funds later in the year. The problem is that meant putting off needed work in the woods to pay fire suppression costs, resulting in more delays in getting the work done.
The measure also calls on the Forest Service to identify the areas most in need of treatment, and treat them first. It also sets up a grant program to assist local governments with fuels reduction costs. It's a good first step toward fixing a basic financial management problem that has plagued the agency for years.
Energy and the economy. No matter how you move (except by foot, maybe) the costs are going up. I spoke last week with the president of Horizon Airlines regarding the reduction in service his company announced recently affecting such places as Pendleton, Klamath Falls and Coos Bay/North Bend. He told me that for every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil, it costs Horizon $10 million, and that fuel costs now exceed labor costsaccounting for 40% of that company's expenses.
What's happening to energy-related costs is more than a ripple these days. With fertilizer doubling, diesel at $5 a gallon, the whole transportation and farm sector are really feeling the pinch. And yet, the Speaker of the House refuses to allow us to have even an up or down vote on changing the law to allow access to American energy reserves. Quite remarkable, and unfortunate, that the so-called "greatest deliberative body" in the world is prevented from deliberating and voting on the most important issue of our day.
Over the years, I've backed legislation to increase conservation, develop alternative renewable energy sources and the first congressionally-mandated increase in vehicle mileage in more than 32 years. But the here-and-now problem we face still requires access to oil and gas. So, I was pleased to see the President lift the moratorium on ocean energy access. Now, it's time for Congress to do its part.
It's the economy I don't know about you, but I'm deeply troubled by the situation involving the nation's biggest mortgage buyers: Freddie Mac, and Fannie Mae. The loss of nearly half their stock value, and the need for a taxpayer infusion of cash to keep them operating, is most troubling for our country, and for taxpayers. If they were to fail, their combined debt would add $5 trillion to the debt of the nation!
This week, the House and Senate are supposed to work out an agreement with the Administration on a housing bill that will include new regulatory oversight for these institutionssomething that is long overdue, and especially important now.
A good step for Medicare This week I joined a large majority of my colleagues in the House and Senate to override President Bush's veto of an important piece of Medicare legislation. The bill suspends physician payments cuts for 18 months, which hopefully gives us enough time to craft a system that overhauls the Medicare physician payment formula once and for all. It's hard enough to access health care services in the vast spaces of rural Oregon physicians and rural patients deserve better than to be left behind as Washington, D.C. grapples with politics as usual. Without this relief, many physicians would be left with a choice between losing money on the care they deliver, or turning patients away. Both are intolerable scenarios.
A broken Congress? Speaking of business as usual in the Capitol, and given approval ratings in the single digits, I know this won't come as a surprise that this Congress has done little to address the big problems facing our great country. And last week came word that the leaders of the House and Senate don't think they will move any appropriations billsthese are the dozen measures that actually fund the government for the next fiscal year. This is the one principal responsibility of the Congress, as it controls the purse strings. Word is that the majority fears moving any bills might allow for a vote on energy issues, and they don't want that to occur, so no appropriations bills will get voted on by the House. Instead, the government will run on what's known as a "continuing resolution" until sometime next year.
There was a remote chance that the defense appropriation might move separately, but this week leaders scrapped its consideration. For those who had "earmark" requests in for this year, you can say goodbye to them, if the government is put on a continuing resolution.
Another assault on rural America Yesterday I sent a letter to the USDA in support of their effort to defeat a challenge to a program that's vital to Second District ranchers and farmers struggling with record-high feed and forage prices.
In response to a National Wildlife Federation lawsuit, a U.S. District Judge out of the Western District of Washington on July 8 placed a restraining order on a Critical Feed Use (CFU) program approved in May by the USDA. Today the USDA will appear in district court in Seattle to defend the program.
This lawsuit is yet another assault on rural Americans who have followed the government's directions while trying to make an honest living and being outstanding voluntary stewards of the land. The restraining order threatens to undermine the good-faith investments ranchers and farmers have already made in a much-needed conservation and feed source program. I strongly back the USDA's efforts to see that this decision is overturned.
Gone Mobile. After completing my 346th round trip between Oregon and Washington, D.C. this evening, I'll join community leaders and citizens in Fossil in Wheeler County on Saturday to celebrate the arrival of the first cell phone service to that community. For years, County Judge Jeanne Burch has asked for my help in getting modern communications into the county. About a year ago during a meeting with the chairman of the board of U.S. Cellular in my Washington, D.C. office, I took the opportunity to point out that this unserved area was in their coverage territory. I told the story Judge Burch had used on me about the number of "potential drownings" that float down the John Day River every week in the summer, and the need for cell phone service for emergency and other uses.
Well, the Chairman took that message to heart and within weeks U.S. Cellular began analyzing how to cover this county. Saturday, we'll officially dedicate the service in Fossil. Since 2004, U.S. Cellular has used federal Universal Service Fund (USF) support to bring new wireless phone service to rural areas across Oregon, including new towers in communities such as Moro, Powell Butte and Warm Springs.
Along with Fossil, new USF towers will soon be operational in Prineville, Merlin and Jacksonville.
(The only downside of the great news for Fossil is that was one of the few places in the district to which I could go and not have my Blackberry email/phone find me!)
That's it for now from our nation's capital. If you would like to unsubscribe from this mailing, simply reply and type the word "unsubscribe" in the subject box.
Member of Congress