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Newsletter: Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection


Location: Unknown

Dear fellow Oregonian,

We have had an eventful couple of weeks here in Washington, D.C., from improving the safety of the nation's food supply to putting the executives of GM and Chrysler under oath to get answers on how they chose which dealerships to keep and which to close.

Before I head back to the airport this afternoon to complete my 371st round trip between Oregon and Washington, D.C., I wanted to give you a quick update on the recent events in the nation's capital.

GM: For $50 billion, we deserve transparency

You likely know that since the government bailouts of Chrysler and GM, the companies and the administration's unelected Auto Task Force have made the unprecedented decision to end their relationships with thousands of dealerships across the country, with basically no explanation.

These are your typical neighborhood dealerships - the ones that sponsor Little League and have been dependable and profitable pillars in the community for decades.

I visited one such dealership, Cascade Auto, in Klamath Falls to find out first hand what kinds of explanations GM gave general manager Clint Thompson for taking away his GM cars.

Turns out, not much. And that's a big problem, because as taxpayers we own a full 60 percent of GM after the administration dropped $50 billion on the struggling automaker. The closest option for service for GM owners in Klamath Falls is clear over the mountains in Medford, a two-hour trip away. We understand how difficult and onerous a trip that is, but folks here on the east coast — and apparently in the GM offices and on the Auto Task Force — don't get it. Then you tell them that it's like asking a GM owner in Philadelphia to hike all the way up to New York City for service, and they start to understand a little more.

That's not even the most egregious example. The only GM dealership in Burns, Ruel Teague Motors, was stripped of its GM lines, also with little explanation. So now the GM truck owners out in Burns have to travel 136 miles to the next closest dealership in Payette, Idaho — a three-hour trip.

As the top Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, I helped lead a hearing last Friday where we brought the heads of GM and Chrysler in, put them under oath, and demanded some answers about the secretive nature of how they shut down dealerships across the country.

I invited Bob Thomas, owner of Bob Thomas Chevrolet-Cadillac in Bend, to testify. Like the dealerships in Klamath Falls and Burns (and others in Redmond, Hermiston, Enterprise and more), his dealership was cut off from GM. The dealership has been in business since 1918, and now, with no GM service in all of Deschutes County, Bend residents will need to travel 40 miles to Madras to find a GM presence.

All of this begs the point: private businesses should be allowed to make decisions that they think are in the best interest of their company. But when the government gets involved with your tax dollars and unelected officials are making the call to eliminate service to put people out of business and reduce consumer choice and service, something's gotten terribly off track. This week I cosponsored legislation to keep the federal government from owning even more businesses. Oregon, and several other states, have such prohibitions in their state constitutions. Given what's happening in Washington, D.C., I think Americans need a similar prohibition at the federal level.

I voted against the original automaker bailout and am aggressively pushing for more oversight into how they're spending our money and making these decisions. I've asked the Democratic chair of our committee to hold another hearing, this time with representatives of the President's Auto Task Force so that we can hear first hand from the people pulling the strings. So far, that request has fallen on deaf ears.

I walked away from last week's hearing feeling no better about the situation that taxpayers are in thanks to the Auto Task Force. Maybe there's a rationale for cutting off service to rural Oregonians and dealing serious blows to near century-old dealerships, but I never heard it during the hearing. And for $50 billion, we deserve an explanation.

A safer food supply

Here I am meeting with Jake Hurley of Wilsonville, and his family, in the U.S. Capitol on February 12, one day after Peter Hurley testified about his son's battle with salmonella.

When three-year old Wilsonville native Jake Hurley visited Washington, D.C. in February, he energetically waved and beamed at the cameras and members of Congress who gathered to listen to his father, Peter, describe Jake's harrowing bought with salmonella just one month earlier.

In January, Jake began battling diarrhea and an upset stomach. Trying to get him to keep something down, his doctor suggested to his parents that he eat his favorite foods—including Austin brand peanut butter crackers—which we now know carried a salmonella strain linked to the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) in Georgia. The crackers Jake ate to feel better only prolonged his sickness.

Luckily, Jake recovered and was well enough to travel to the nation's capital in February, where I and the other members of the House investigative panel who listened to Jake's story vowed to change the law to protect families like the Hurleys in the future from negligent food producers. You may recall that in that same hearing, I challenged the executives at PCA to consume their own products, which they distributed despite knowing they could contain salmonella. Fifteen confirmed cases of salmonella poisoning in Oregon have been linked to PCA by the state epidemiologist's office. For every confirmed case, about 20 go unreported.

As a result of our investigations into food safety issues, the Committee on Energy and Commerce unanimously approved legislation this week to safeguard the nation's food supply by modernizing the Food and Drug Administration's authorities to inspect food suppliers, trace products back to their source and recall contaminated food items.

The measure would require FDA to inspect high-risk facilities as often as every six months. Currently, there is no mandate for those inspections to take place, and there is no legal requirement for producers to draw up food safety plans to safeguard their facilities from an outbreak. It will give FDA the authority to quickly recall foods and establish a system to trace foods back through the entire food chain to its source so we can tackle and isolate problems more quickly and make the nation's food supply safer. Once the House passes this bill, it's imperative for the Senate to take action as soon as possible so these important safeguards can be put in place quickly.

This really should be called ‘Jake's Law.' If PCA had in place a fully functioning food safety plan, as this bill would mandate, there is a good chance that the salmonella outbreak could have been avoided and Jake and hundreds of others never would have been poisoned.

How much debt can this country handle?

At meetings all around our district over the last several weeks, one theme that is constant is a concern about the historic deficit spending that is occurring in Washington, D.C. People are rightly concerned about record borrowing and spending and who will pay back this debt and at what cost. Many economists predict high inflation and interest rates will chase this high debt, causing long-term economic hardship for Americans.

The Washington Post ran agraphic in Sunday's newspaper that really put the debt load our country is assuming into perspective:

source: Washington Post

The amount the government is planning to borrow in the next ten years dwarfs, in today's dollars, the cost of World War II, the Korean War, the interstate highway system, the Vietnam War, the race to the moon, and the Iraq War, combined. That is stunning.

Families across the country have tightened their belts. Yet Congress doesn't get it.

For example, this week the House passed a nearly 12 percent annual increase in spending in the Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill totaling $64.4 billion.

When Republicans offered about 100 amendments to this huge measure to mostly reduce spending, the Democrats used their power to change the rules and prevent all but a handful from even being considered by the House. Then they defeated most of those, including one to reduce the rate of spending growth in the bill to 7 percent next year, instead of 12 percent.

We've got to get this spending under control; unfortunately, without any real check and balance, it's just a runaway.

On the Road Again

Early Saturday morning I'll hit the road for meetings and events in Oregon's three least populated counties, Sherman, Gilliam and Wheeler. This follows two Saturdays ago when I held meetings in Josephine, Jackson and Klamath counties.

Then it's back to Washington, D.C. again early next week, where the House will likely take up the national energy tax legislation. I read recently where the federal government is spending millions in Oregon's federal forests to reduce biomass and use it to produce renewable, green electricity. Too bad the climate change bill says that electricity generated from woody biomass from federal forests won't count as renewable! I've not given up the fight to fix that definition in the measure. Remember, this is the same bill that PacifiCorp estimates will drive up electricity rates for its 553,000 customers by nearly 18 percent in the measure's first year.

I welcome your comments on these and the many other issues before Congress. And feel free to forward this newsletter to your friends or associates.

I'll be sure to let you know in the next e-newsletter if we make any progress in bringing some sort of sanity to the level of government spending here in the nation's capital.

Best regards,
Greg Walden

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