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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
After Oil Refinery Fire, Wyden Sends Letters to FTC/EIA Seeking Extra Vigilance Against Gas Price Gouging
Washington, D.C. – With the effect on gas prices of last week’s fire at the Chevron Oil refinery in California already being felt by Oregonians at the pump, U. S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a pair of letters to the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission and the Administrator of the Energy Information Administration asking them to increase vigilance “to ensure that oil companies are not taking unfair advantage of the situation to jack up prices.”
A fire at Chevron’s Richmond, Calif. oil refinery – the third largest in the state — has knocked out some of the refining capacity West Coast, causing prices in Oregon to spike by more than 20 cents per gallon in the last week alone. The extent of the damage at the refinery is still unknown; however, when a fire at a similarly-sized plant in Washington State disrupted refining capacity earlier this year, Oregonians saw an increase of more than 70 cents per gallon.
“In these difficult economic times,” Wyden wrote in the letter to the FTC, “retail consumers and businesses are already struggling with high fuel costs. I respectfully request that your agency work with the EIA and the appropriate state agencies to monitor the West Coast petroleum markets and ensure that consumers are protected during this situation.”
The Chevron refinery and the BP Cherry Point/Puget Sound refineries both have the capacity to refine 240,000 and 230,000 barrels of oil per day respectively. While Oregonians receive most of their gasoline from refineries in Washington, some receive gasoline from California refineries and the decrease in supply has the capability of affecting gas prices up and down the entire West Coast. In order to protect consumers, Wyden’s letter calls on the two agencies to keep a close eye on any potential price gouging the situation may create.
Oregon’s two U.S. Senators, citing increasingly bad relations with the Afghanistan government, its people and a string of deadly incidents that have produced assassinations of U.S. officials and Afghan civilians, are calling for a rapid withdrawal of all U.S. troops in that perennially war scarred country.
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released the following statement in response to President Obama’s State of the Union Address:
“President Obama laid out his plan to help hard working Americans get back on their feet and rebuild an economy devastated by the financial collapse of 2008. One of the most encouraging things I heard from the President tonight was his interest in ending the perverse incentives that the broken tax code gives to American businesses to ship jobs overseas. Revamping our tax code and particularly scrapping those incentives will mean more job creation in the U.S. and more opportunities to support a middle class that has seen their prospects diminish for decades.
The President is right when he says that unfair trade practices have made it harder for U.S. manufacturers in the green goods sector and others to compete with their Chinese counterparts. With increased enforcement we can level the playing field for American workers and I look forward to working with him and the Administration to improve enforcement of our trade laws. ”
With the nation’s debt limit deadline approaching, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden issued the following statement announcing his support for the legislation to lift the debt ceiling:
“Today, Members of Congress have a choice: allow the United States to default on its financial obligations or vote for the deal on the table. The full faith and credit of the United States is being held for ransom, and because I’m not willing to sacrifice the economic well-being of hundreds of millions of Americans, I will vote for the deal on the table.
This is not the deal that I would have constructed nor should it be held up as a shining example of bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans could have worked together on real reforms. They could have put the country first and come up with constructive solutions to reduce the deficit, grow the economy and put Americans back to work. They could have laid the groundwork for tax reform and made it possible for both parties to achieve long-sought victories.
Instead we are left to celebrate what this legislation doesn’t do. This bill doesn’t allow the United States to default on its financial obligations. It doesn’t hold seniors hostage or put important safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid and veterans benefits at risk. Instead this deal protects seniors and ensures that our nation’s most vulnerable will stay protected as Congress continues to find ways to get our deficits and debt under control. But we can’t afford to rest on those assurances. We need to stay vigilant for the most vulnerable and we must find better ways to save money than cutting education, job training, infrastructure and research efforts that are essential to this country’s economic future. Arbitrary cuts to these programs will harm our nation’s ability to compete at the individual, corporate and national level, for years to come. That’s not good for the economy or the deficit.
The creation of a bipartisan Congressional Committee to tackle the deficit creates an opportunity to fix what this deal did and achieve what it didn’t. It creates an opportunity for Congress to find savings elsewhere and restore those needed investments in our economy. Reducing the deficit doesn’t have to be defined by slashing spending to achieve arbitrary goals. This Committee can look for ways to save money by thinking more strategically and finding ways for current programs to operate more efficiently. This committee can look for ways to grow the economy and put people back to work. This Committee can tackle tax reform and give Americans something to show for the debate.
I will vote for this deal because I don’t believe that allowing the country to go into default is an option. Putting an already struggling economy at even greater risk is not an acceptable choice. But I believe that Congress can and should do better. The only way we do better is to keep working for real solutions and real reforms, like tax reform. And while such reforms may be hard to achieve, they are impossible to achieve if no one fights for them. This is why I will keep putting ideas on the table and fighting for solutions that address the very real challenges facing Americans.”