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Sen. Ron Wyden Town Hall in Lincoln City – Sequester, Federal Budget, Waste, Social Security, Medicare, Gun Control…even Hemp

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden
Lincoln City Town Hall Meeting
Lincoln City Community Center – Saturday

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden got pretty much what you might expect at a Town Hall meeting in Lincoln City Saturday. A full plate of big issues with even more “on the side.”

A number of residents lamented that although the last election is well behind us, the Congress still can’t seem to get anything done. They also have fears what might happen if the “Sequester” kicks in March 1st and whether Social Security may be affected.

Wyden said that the Congress does seem to lack the ability to conduct “principled discussions,” in which reasonable minds can differ but compromises are still possible. He said part of the continued log jam is due to the use of the filibuster in the Senate which the Republicans are threatening to evoke over the nomination of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. Wyden told the gathering that he favored an idea his partner in the Senate, Senator Jeff Merkley had, which would have made the filibuster harder to evoke, and even harder to keep going. However, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada entered into a gentleman’s agreement with Kentucky Congressman Mich McConnell that is already beginning to backfire on democrats.

The federal budget was a top issue, especially as it related to the nation’s $16 Trillion dollar debt. Wyden said much of the debt has grown as the result of being at war for over ten years and of lobbyists winning tax breaks for their clients, especially big corporations. He cited Exxon Mobile that gets billions of dollars in tax breaks every year yet pays practically no taxes at all to the U.S.Treasury. He said business and individual tax loop holes and incentives have grown hugely without the country figuring out if they’re even justified. He said it all contributes to the deficit. Wyden was very emphatic that not nearly enough has been done to hold Wall Street accountable for what it did to the world economy, America’s included. That too, he said, was a big contributor.

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Wyden told the crowd that a major part of the federal budget is the category called entitlements; Social Security, Medicare, Veterans benefits, things that the American people value and don’t want cut. The rest of the U.S. budget involves Defense (20%) and the rest Parks and Forest Services, Courts, agricultural subsidies, transportation and all the rest.

Wyden says of all entitlements 70% is Medicare and 70% of Medicare is aimed at long term chronic diseases which are very expensive to deal with. He said with the gradual ramping up of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), those costs should start coming down because America’s medical system will soon be focusing on preventing disease rather than spending huge sums down the road after a disease or condition has been ignored too long. He added that Medicare patients ought to get the same discount on drugs that Veterans get. Wyden also said he supports efforts to catch Medicare fraud earlier. He said medical records and financial transparencies should be readily available for fraud inspections so that Medicare fraudsters don’t get by with their illegal scams for so long before they’re brought to justice.

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One resident who had just moved to Lincoln City from Forest Grove commented that “MY son is in the military and tells me stories of huge waste in what’s paid for munitions and military equipment – prices that make no sense at all,” he complained. Wyden told him that America’s heavy reliance on traditional ground forces, expensive aircraft carriers and everything in between are becoming more expensive and less effective. He said with drones and highly trained specialized forces, America’s military will soon look a lot different than it is today. He said the cost our national defense should come down as the mass of our military is replaced with elite forces using higher and higher levels of technology.

Responding to an OSU Extension official’s statement that student nutrition needs to be improved, Wyden agreed with him. In a back and forth exchange, Wyden was told that trying to get changes in federally provided school lunches, so that they’re more nutritious, has been very frustrating. They said many healthy food advocates have given up, settling for accepting whatever the feds dole out. But most of the time, they say, it’s the wrong kind of calories that only make kids overweight.

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Wyden was also asked to comment on what the country is doing to combat climate change and the need for making green energy the primary source to satisfy the country’s energy needs. He said that the U.S. needs to be the leader in green energy and that a growing percentage of our country’s energy needs are being met by solar, wind, hydro and natural gas…natural gas producing half the green house gas emissions than any other fossil-based fuel source. He pointed out that many U.S. based manufacturing operations that were shipped overseas are now returning to the U.S. (on shoring) because natural gas is once again abundant in this country and at reasonable prices.

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On the issue of gun control, Wyden said he’s very concerned for the safety of the country after so many incidents of gun violence. “I have three children all under the age of six, and it concerns me a lot,” he said. He said the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford in Tucson was a classic case of a widely known and documented mentally ill person acquiring firearms. “It might not have happened if laws requiring thorough background checks were in force at the time.” He went on to say that although he supported the original ban on assault weapons he said the law was largely ineffective. And for that reason he’s not sure if he would vote to re-institute the ban. “But banning high capacity clips are another thing. I’d probably vote for that,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but we must have workable, practical solutions to the problem. But none of them should involve arming school teachers or principals.”

The issue of hemp came up, some in the audience wondering why it’s okay to sell hemp products in Oregon but not grow it? Wyden said the interface between the federal and state governments on the issue shows just how “hugely stupid governments can be.” Wyden said it boggles the mind that what can get you arrested for growing in Oregon is for sale on the shelves of big box stores all over the state – provided by Canadian growers. “If it’s legal to sell in Oregon, then it should be grown in Oregon. It’s a dumb rule and it should be repealed.”

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