Republican backed bailout while Democrat didn't
Oregon's U.S. senators voted on opposite sides of the financial rescue bill, but they were united Friday in their support of county timber payments that were attached to the bill.
Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Gordon Smith spoke at the League of Oregon Cities annual meeting at the Salem Conference Center, Wyden in a speech and Smith in a news conference.
The amendment to the overall bill, which President Bush signed Friday, provides a total of $740 million during the next four years to county governments and school districts. The amount of aid will decline 10 percent each year.
But without that help for rural counties, Wyden said, "I shudder to think where we would be."
In providing the original payments in 2000, Congress severed its historic link with timber sales on federal forest lands.
"We're going to get help for the next four years, but the next four years are going to be critically important," Wyden said, without mentioning that he voted against the overall bill. "We're going to have to assume that when that money is gone, we're going to have to find new opportunity for economic development."
Smith said later that one of those steps is a resumption of logging on federal forests, based on plans still being developed.
"We have extended a lifeline to Oregon's fragile rural economies," he said.
Smith used his news conference not only to showcase comments by commissioners from affected counties and the Republican leaders of the Legislature, where he served before his election in 1996, but also to attack Democratic opponent Jeff Merkley.
Merkley, who is running neck and neck with Smith, announced his opposition to the rescue bill after the Senate voted 74-25 to approve it Wednesday.
Smith said he is prepared to defend his vote for it, even if it had not contained money for the county payments. The bill also extended several tax breaks and put mental-health benefits on a par with other medical insurance.
"What I did not do, with calls running 10-to-1 against, is what Mr. Merkley did: Stick a finger in the air and see which way the wind is blowing," Smith said. "When the nation is in crisis, it's time to lead. I did it. He did not."
Merkley said later he stood with Wyden and Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, who he said were the real leaders in defending county payments.
"Like both of them, I opposed the bailout because it failed to protect taxpayers and restore accountability," he said. "The bailout amounted to a $700 billion blank check for Wall Street."
After his public speech to the league, Wyden said he voted against the bill because it set aside too much money.
"Wall Street is going to make a lot of decisions with the secretary of the Treasury," he said. "I would have preferred using a smaller sum to recapitalize the banks and let the government take the position of equity."
Smith said the government needs to take other steps to overhaul federal financial regulation, and extend unemployment benefits, home-heating and medical assistance.
"We have to change that which has failed us, so that it will never fail us again," he said.