Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
For many, Memorial Day was the start of barbecues and summer fun. For others it was a time to remember departed loved ones; and for a grateful nation, it was a time to say a prayer for those who have preserved our freedom, and given their last full measure. All of these emotions came together for me last week with the memorial service on Monday in Hood River for my wife's mother, and then on Thursday when I joined more than 300 others in Baker City as we paid our respects to Corporal Jessica Ellis, a medic who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Jessica was an incredible person who told her Dad she was there " to take care of her buddies." And from the tributes delivers, she clearly succeeded in her mission and will be deeply missed.
Also last week, I spent time in Washington, D.C. where we overrode the President's veto of the Farm Bill. While the measure still has some warts, it's much better than what the House initially passed (remember how that version violated more than 50 international tax treaties and raised billions in new taxes?). The final product did NOT raise taxes, and did put some needed reforms in place. It also will do good things not just for farmers, but for food banks, the hungry and environmental conservation efforts. Here's a look:
FINALLY WE HAVE A FARM BILL
Conservation and Energy
The bill establishes a new Agriculture Water Enhancement Program to help producers achieve water quality goals and address water quantity concerns. The legislation builds on previous efforts to recognize some of the finest stewards of the land - Oregon's farmers and ranchers. The bill reauthorizes the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), increases funding for the Conservation Security Program (CSP), and increases funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) by $3.4 billion while streamlining the evaluation process for EQIP applications.
The legislation provides a much-needed shift in focus from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol. Cellulosic ethanol holds tremendous potential not only for a smarter, more independent American energy future, but also for the health of our forests as well. The Farm Bill creates a new program to help agriculture producers and rural small businesses purchase renewable energy systems and make energy efficiency improvements.
Research investment for specialty crops
Oregon is known for its wide variety of specialty crops, yet past Farm Bills have done little to address the issues these fruit and produce growers face. For the first time in any national farm policy, this Farm Bill provides a significant commitment to specialty crops by making a serious investment in important research, pest and disease management, trade assistance and nutrition programs.
This legislation focuses on improving the diets of our school children by expanding the school fruit and vegetable snack program nationwide. It's good for farmers and good for encouraging healthy eating habits for millions of children.
This measure beefs up our research programs that are so important to overcoming the threats of disease and pests. It seems like in every meeting with farmers and ranchers, I hear about new challenges from insects, disease and invasive species taking over natural habitat. Our best hope of overcoming these threats is to make this serious investment in our research scientists.
Benefits for Oregon's grain producers
Farmers across the state continue to tell me that although prices for their commodities are high, there's more risk and volatility involved in farming than we've ever seen before as the cost of farm inputs continue to rise. The price of a bushel may be high, but so is everything else that is required to produce that same bushel, from the machinery to the fuel to the fertilizer.
That meant it was even more important for Northwest growers that we readjusted the target prices and loan rates used to calculate programs such as the Counter Cyclical Payment for wheat and barley so that the programs will work in the future for farmers in the Pacific Northwest, like similar programs have worked for growers of corn and cotton.
Because the trigger prices were set too low in the prior Farm Bill, Oregon's wheat producers only benefited from one of the three commodity support programs, the Direct Payment. The adjustments made in this bill will hopefully give our growers equity among commodities grown throughout the country and provide Oregon's grain producers with a true safety net when prices fall.
COUNTY PAYMENTS UPDATE
There was a bit of good news on the county payments front in the last week. The latest word is that the Senate included a one-year extension of the program in the emergency war supplemental. The Democratic House leadership, however, refused to include county payments in the House version of the supplemental, despite funding a host of other domestic spending projects. The two versions will get reconciled over the next week. So stay tuned for the result.
We're also working together to bring up H.R. 3058 for a vote on the House floor. As I've been saying for weeks now, it's a bipartisan, four-year reauthorization of county payments that's been eligible for a vote on the House floor since January 15th. My colleague, Rep. Peter DeFazio, announced last week that he has assurances from the leadership to bring the measure up for consideration on June 3. While they work out some technical issues between now and then, we're keeping our fingers crossed that we might actually get a bill moving.
As I mentioned in the last newsletter, I've been speaking on the House floor about the consequences to each county in the Second Congressional District. Here are links to the speeches I've already delivered:
April 23: Jackson County
April 24: Deschutes County
April 30: Klamath County
May 1: Josephine County
May 6: Grant County
May 8: Lake County
May 14: Harney County
May 15: Crook County
May 21: Wasco County
May 22: Hood River County
ON THE TRAIL
In the last couple of weeks I've covered a lot of ground in the district
Nearly two weeks ago, I was in Grants Pass and spoke briefly with local realtors, and then joined former State Senate President Brady Adams on a tour of the Evergreen Financial Bear Hotel to take a look at the civic projects ongoing there. If you've been to Grants Pass, you may have noticed the bears that appear on the city streets. The Bear Hotel has become ground zero for this civic pride project, but also provide general art and meeting space for the rest of the community.
Considering how large the federal government has become, the thought has cropped up in my mind (and perhaps yours too): Just what the heck happens to all the federal government's used equipment?
Recently, the Government Services Administration offered me 40 refurbished laptop computers to distribute to Rogue River Elementary School (enrollment of 273 students). I had a great time at the school assembly talking with the children about the Congress and how the federal government works. Their acting principal, Stephanie Johnson, has focused the children on improving their test scores, especially reading. And she's succeeded with a 10 percent increase this year!
I presented the first of the computers to the student body in a ceremony in the gymnasium. The computers will not only upgrade the computer lab, but also will enable the school to install much-needed reading programs in the classrooms.
Then it was on to the Table Rock Campus of Rogue Community College to meet with President Peter Angstadt and discuss their proposal for a new Justice Education and Training Center (JTEC). Tim George (Deputy Chief of Police, Medford), Joe Henner (Chief of Police, Grants Pass), Terry Holderness (Chief of Police, Ashland), and Jon Zeliff (Chief of Police, Central Point) were also there.
Next, I had the honor of being invited to speak at the dedication ceremony for the new 68-bed facility at the Southern Oregon White City Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC). We've come a long way from the time when the SORCC was threatened with closure because of its antiquated facilities. The community really rallied behind the facility and with such a superb staff and record of terrific medical care for some of our neediest veterans, we were able to convince the Veterans' Administration to modernize the facility, rather than close it.
In the past seven years, funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs has increased by over 80 percent, but there is more to be done. I supported the effort to provide the VA with the means to hire more than 1,000 new employees this year to help reduce the backlog of claims and appeals.
I ended the day with a tour of Dogs for the Deaf, a non-profit organization funded through private donations that rescues and professionally trains dogs to assist people and enhance their lives. I met Robin Dickson, the director of the facility, a little earlier this year and she invited me to take a look at her operation. They do great work, and without the help of tax dollars.
Finally, last Friday I had breakfast with Idaho Governor Butch Otter, with whom I served in Congress. We discussed issues ranging from forest fires and wolves to Snake River Dams and fuel costs. Then it was on to Ontario to participate in the groundbreaking of the new Oregon National Guard Readiness Center. Nearly a decade in the making, this facility will provide both state-of-the-art training opportunities for our men and women in uniform and double as a community center and place for Treasure Valley Community College to hold some classes, too.
That's all for now. I'll be sure to keep you posted on the progress of county payments and other issues that come up this week. Until the next newsletter, you can always reach me through my website or by contacting any of my offices in Oregon or Washington, D.C.
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Member of Congress