Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
Greetings from a cold and blustery Washington, D.C. What a sharp contrast to the nice weather we had in Oregon all last week during the congressional district work period! After finishing my 361st round trip between Oregon and the nation's capital, I visited eight counties in the Second District (Klamath, Jackson, Josephine, Umatilla, Union, Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson counties), covering 1,600 miles in six days and participating in 38 meetings and public events.
The economy is hurting millions of Americans, and the pain is no different in the Second District. Still, many folks I met with last week are frustrated with the government's response an $800 billion "stimulus"-spending-plan that tops out over $1 trillion once interest is added.
I heard much about the huge increase in the nation's debt and the impact on the next generation and I also got an earful about how the measure was rammed through Congress without the public, the press or even members of Congress getting the opportunity to read this 1,073 page bill before it was voted upon.
Congress missed the chance to really get the economy back on track. I supported a plan that would have created twice as many jobs at half the cost (and that's using the peer-reviewed economic model authored by President Obama's top economic advisor). That would have meant at least 30,000 more Oregon jobs than the plan that passed.
Whether it was at the Klamath Falls Sunrise Rotary, the Milton-Freewater Chamber Annual Banquet, or the Central Oregon Visitors Association in Bend, I heard time and again concerns over how much debt the country is assuming that future generations will have to pay back. Since the beginning of 2008, the American taxpayers have been put on the hook for $8 trillion yes, TRILLION of bailout and other economic rescue measures implemented by the federal government. And now there's a half-trillion dollar omnibus spending bill to fund the government for the rest of the year that we will vote on this week. Where does it end?
Another common frustration I heard was with the rushed, closed-door process that produced the stimulus bill. A complete copy of the legislation was placed online for the first time at midnight on Feb. 12; then voted on a little over 12 hours later. Not even speed-reading legend Evelyn Wood could have read through all 1,073 pages of the bill in time to vote.
Finally, folks are having a hard time connecting with how this massive spending bill helps their families and the economy over the long-term. There's got to be a better way to spend this money than sinking $1 billion into the census, $350 million for new plug-in electric golf carts, or another $650 million for TV converter boxes, for example. How is any of that stimulus?
Again, I supported an alternative that would have created more jobs with less of the taxpayers' hard-earned money by giving tax incentives to small businesses and putting more money in the pockets of Americans in the lower income levels.
It never occurred to me in over 21 years of running a small business that you could borrow your way into prosperity. But now that the money has been borrowed, it's my job to make sure the Second District gets its "unfair share."
Jobs in the forests?
Last Tuesday morning, I convened a videoconference with the heads of Forest Service and BLM forests in Oregon to ask how they plan to spend their share of the $250 million in the stimulus for fuels reduction projects. If you're anything like me, you're sick and tired of seeing our choked forests needlessly burn up in catastrophic wildfire every summer. I outlined the following principles for the agencies to follow as they begin to put their project lists together:
1. Prioritize hazardous fuels reduction projects in Condition Class II and III lands -- the areas where catastrophic wildfire is most likely to originate.
2. Use commercial contractors to put Oregonians back to work in the woods.
3. Use the authorities available in the strongly bipartisan Healthy Forests Restoration Act to do the work in an environmentally responsible way, but also in a way that saves time and precious funding.
4. Undertake essential forest health projects in areas most desperate for work in the woods. According to the regional economist for the Oregon Employment Division, the loss of 200 jobs from mill closures in eastern Oregon during 2007 had an economic impact comparable to the loss of 26,400 jobs in the Portland metropolitan area.
Why closing Kingsley would make no sense
You may have heard the unsettling news that closing Kingsley Field is among a long list of potential spending cuts being considered by the state to deal with its deficit. Ironically, closing Kingsley would end of costing the state and the Klamath Basin's economy. At a briefing at Kingsley last Tuesday, I learned that Kingsley employs 1,000 and has a $69.3 million direct impact on the local economy, with a 7-time multiplier on top of that. With the federal support for its training mission, it brings in money.
Kingsley is the finest F-15 training center in the country. I don't understand how closing it would make any sense economically or with respect to homeland security. Especially at a time when our National Guard is relied on more heavily for service overseas than ever before, our servicemen and servicewomen shouldn't have to come home to a shuttered base. I hope by even having this on the state's list to potentially cut, it won't send the wrong signal to Washington and hurt our efforts to expand the national security mission and improve the facilites on the base.
My visit to Crook County High School
Crook County High School student Lucas Smith invited me to speak to his school in Prineville. After telling students about Abraham Lincoln's various connections to Oregon, and discussing recent happenings in Congress, I was really impressed by the specific policy-oriented questions the students asked. Afterward, Lucas presented to me on behalf of the school a wonderful "Friendship Medal" modeled after the ones Lewis and Clark presented along their historic journey. I will proudly display it in my Bend office.
Working with Sen. Merkley in Pendleton
I wasn't the only member of the delegation working in the Second District last week. Sen. Jeff Merkley and I crossed paths in Pendleton on Thursday. I invited him to participate in a round table I set up with local businesses at Hodgen Distributing. We will get together for breakfast later this week in Washington, D.C. to discuss areas where we can work together for the benefit of our state. While Senator Wyden and I didn't cross paths this time, we are working together on some rural health care issues, and I congratulate him on his 500th town hall.
Jefferson County's fight against underage drug use and some very troubling products
I received an update on the progress of the Jefferson County "Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drug Protocol (ATOD)," a community-wide effort to combat the underage use of drugs and alcohol. This program is as unique as it its effective. If underage kids are caught in attendance at a party where drug or underage drinking is occurring, everyone's parents are immediately notified. I told them it's like that old movie, "Ghostbusters" who you gonna' call? The kids' parents, that's who. In the last year, the parents of 15 kids have been called, and none of those 15 kids have ended up in the juvenile justice system.
Nearly every entity that has anything to do with kids, law enforcement, or health care is party to signing the protocol and participating in the program.
Mandi Puckett, who heads the effort, used the occasion to educate me on two other issues they're concerned about: alcoholic energy drinks and fake urine. The ATOD folks displayed a mix of "energy drink" cans, some of which contained alcohol and some of which didn't. It was nearly impossible to tell the difference. The marketing strategy toward the younger generation is obvious.
Even more appalling was a product that a local police officer purchased in a market in town: it's called "Quick Fix." Sounds innocuous enough, until you read a little closer to find that it's a "unisex synthetic urine" marketed to successfully help the user evade alcohol, drug, and pregnancy tests.
Somebody tell me how that kind of stuff has a place on store shelves in our communities? I'd love to ask the creators and marketers of this stuff if they would condone supplying their own teenagers this stuff before a night out with friends. Or fly on a plane after the pilot has used their product to fake a drug test. I don't think so.
I already assured the folks in Madras that I would be following up on these issues with the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, which I sit on as the top Republican member of the panel.
The peanut butter salmonella outbreak
That's the same subcommittee where I called out those peanut company executives from Georgia for shipping products that tested positive for salmonella. At least nine people have died in connection with the contaminated food; 12 have been sickened in Oregon, including three-year old Jacob Hurley of Wilsonville, who thankfully recovered from his sickness. His father, Peter Hurley, testified at a hearing on Feb. 11 about their ordeal.
Both the president and the plant manager of Peanut Corporation of America (where the food originated) were subpoenaed by the committee to testify, and both refused to answer my very simple question: would they be willing to consume the tainted products they sent out into the marketplace?
How outrageous. The FBI has raided the plant and criminal charges are likely in the offing. The American people deserve to have confidence in their food supply, and I'll be working with my colleagues on bipartisan legislation that fixes the problems that are out there.
Digital television transition
The hearing garnered much media attention - click here to watch my interview with Shepard Smith on Fox News.
If you're like most Americans, you were probably ready for the digital television transition scheduled for Feb. 17. At the last minute, however, Congress voted to pull a switcharoo on the American people and delayed the switch to June 12, despite the fact that over 95 percent of households were ready for the switch.
I was in Medford on Feb. 17 when three of the four stations in that market went ahead with the switch as planned. While they received many phone calls from viewers, I was told that most callers sought technical assistance getting their digital converter boxes up and running.
I argued all along that the country was ready for the digital television switch, and I'm even more confident of that now. If you're still looking for more information for a digital converter box, click here.
New face in the eastern Oregon office
There's a new face in my eastern Oregon district office in La Grande, though many of you are probably quite familiar with former Union County Commissioner Colleen MacLeod. Colleen is a fourth generation eastern Oregonian with extensive experience in a variety of issues important to rural Oregon.
I've known Colleen as a passionate, energetic and effective leader for rural Oregon, and I have confidence she will deliver the same as she helps me serve the residents of eastern Oregon. She has hit the ground running to join our efforts to help people receive positive results from the federal government.
Along with her 12 years of service as a Union County commissioner, Colleen assumed a number of key leadership positions within organizations that strive to benefit rural eastern Oregon: the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance, the Oregon Rural Congress, the Association of Oregon Counties, and the National Association of Counties, to name a few. Colleen will continue to remain involved in many of her related public service roles to maximize the coordination between local, state and federal government.
It's great to have her on board, so if you're in the neighborhood in downtown La Grande (1211 Washington Avenue), feel free to drop in and say hello. Or you can always ring the office at (541) 624-2400 with any questions or concerns regarding Congress. Same goes for my other offices in central and southern Oregon, whose contact information you can find on the right side of your screen.
New office location in Bend and Washington, D.C.
On a final note, please note that my district office in Bend has moved locations: the new address is 1051 NW Bond St., Suite 400. The phone number is unchanged: (541) 389-4408. And in Washington, D.C. we moved to 2352 Rayburn House Office Building, but the phone, fax, and email all stayed the same. As always, feel free to pop in or call if there's something we can help you with when it comes to the federal government.