Rather than give one of his “State of the Congress” opening remarks, Senator Ron Wyden threw his entire Lincoln City town hall meeting open for questions from the audience and it went on for a couple of hours. Covered a lot of ground.
Answering questions, Senator Wyden responded:
* He opposes any new nuclear power plants until the industry and the Department of Energy can figure out what to do with the nuclear waste.
* He favors a bi-partisan bill to figure out to finally clean up the hugely expensive Hanford Nuclear Facility near Tri-Cities, WA.
* He favors a more balanced approach to managing Oregon’s O&C forest lands – he favors sustainable harvests, protecting old growth timber and maintaining forest health which includes high water quality to protect salmon runs.
* He also favors making funds to prevent forest fires untouchable – they can’t be raided to fight fires.
* He favors immigration reform, but only after the country gets serious about protecting the borders and enforcing laws already on the books. He said any of the estimated 11 million illegals who want to admit they came here illegally, but want to become citizens, must show a proficiency in English, not have broken any serious laws, pay any back taxes owed and then apply for citizenship. He said that’s largely the Senate version of immigration reform which he voted for. The bill is stuck in the House.
* Wyden told the audience that recent huge increases in federal flood insurance were clearly not well thought out. It hurts homeowners who face, in Lincoln County, insurance premiums of up to $63,000 a year. Not only is that unfair to homeowners who would, more often than not, just walk away from their homes, it’s economically damaging to communities and to their economies. The higher rates are being held back until a more workable arrangement can be developed by the Congress.
* He said the middle class is under attack in this country. He said the U.S. suffers from the Neiman Marcus vs Dollar Tree economy. He recommended more available education and specialized training for Americans to enable them to compete in the global economy. He said he opposes any cuts to Social Security and/or Medicare.
* Wyden said he believes that sexual assault charges involving military personnel should be taken away from military tribunals and transferred to the country’s regular court system. The military, he said, is clearly not doing a good job. He also opposed any cuts to military pensions, a move which he blamed on the recent “Murray/Ryan Budget” which cut military spending under the recent “Grand Compromise” bill.
* Wyden favors combining Earthquake, Fire and Tsunami disaster preparedness among emergency services up and down the Oregon Coast. He said it would train more emergency responders more effectively and at lower cost than under the current piecemeal approach.
* When challenged by a residents who said he believes the National Security Agency should be given more power, not less, in order to protect our national security. “We haven’t had an attack since 9-11 – so it’s working,” he said. Wyden replied that the NSA is wasting its time probing into the telephone calls of all Americans. He said the NSA knows what’s going on and doesn’t need to violate Americans’ privacy to get the job one. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee for many years, he said he knows what he’s talking about.
* Wyden said he favors a combination of a Constitutional Amendment and congressional legislation to get real limits on campaign donations and spending and full disclosure of who is giving how much to which candidate – full disclosure.
* Wyden said he continues to push for more widely offered broadband internet and TV services for the rural areas of the country. Without it, the rurals cannot compete in the global economy.
* He said there is entirely too much bickering and partisanship in the Congress. He said he favors sticking to the issues and working on specifics. He says the endless loud arguing is hurting the country and the Congress.
* One man in the audience said the U.S. is still fighting and killing Indians as in the 1800’s, only now we’re doing it overseas – using drones. He called for an immediate halt to what he called “senseless killing” which is making more and more enemies for the U.S. Wyden didn’t really address the statement other than to say that the U.S. Government is working with Native American Tribes across the country – giving them seats at the table in terms of economic development, education, territorial integrity and medical assistance.
* Wyden admitted that the Federal Reserve, which regulates America’s money supply, has done less than a stellar job of helping to pull the U.S. out of the economic crash of 2008. He said The Fed has a new chairperson and that he’s confident Janet Yellen will be more responsive to the financial needs of the country. Wyden says he will press for more transparency at The Fed so important decisions on money supply, interest rates and other vital parts of the country’s financial system, will be more open to scrutiny. Wyden said the Congress needs to demand more accountability from The Fed.