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Pledges to find common ground with Republicans on key issues
By Rylan Boggs
Blue Mountain Eagle
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) fielded a variety of questions from citizens, including Grant Union students, during a town hall meeting in John Day April 18.
He addressed issues ranging from health care to infrastructure and committed to making a bipartisan effort to repair failing infrastructure in Oregon.
Grant Union students asked questions about future NASA funding, foster care and tax reform. Wyden said he was in favor of increased NASA funding and opposed to tax reform that would only benefit the upper class.
He told students about the Family Stability and Kinship Care Act which he introduced to expand services and resources available to keep children at home or with another family member instead of in foster care.
Susan Christensen, the executive director of the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation, called on Wyden to address failing infrastructure, for the continuation of EPA grants and state loan programs benefiting rural communities and to streamline regulatory requirements so her office can spend more time working and less time dealing with regulations.
Wyden said improving roads, bridges and broadband connectivity was a top priority of his and said, “Big league quality of life needs big league infrastructure.” He urged Christensen to contact him with specific examples of government regulations that made her job harder so he could work to streamline the process.
John Day resident Ashley Stevick asked what he was doing to protect access to health care and women’s reproductive rights.
“I’ve always felt that health care is the most important issue,” Wyden said, adding he would continue to protect the Affordable Care Act and the protections it offers.
“On my watch, as long as I’m chairman and a ranking member on the finance committee, we are not going to deny women the opportunity to go to the doctor they trust,” Wyden said.
Grant County resident Pat Holliday urged Wyden work with Republicans to solve problems and to fight for the re-authorization of Secure Rural Schools funds, which have helped fund schools, roads and restoration projects.
Wyden, who co-authored the SRS legislation, said he would “pull out all the stops” and work with Republicans to get the funds back. He said he had support in the House for the issue and that a key factor would be to get the timber harvest back up. Wyden said he wanted to break the party gridlock and party polarization by working together on issues both parties could agree on, such as tax reform and fighting against special interest lobbies.
A Grant Union student asked Wyden about the “blockade” of claims the Department of Veterans Affairs was dealing with. Wyden responded that veteran care in Oregon is actually quality care, if vets are able to access it. He proposed hiring more employees at the VA and making more care providers available to veterans.
Former Grant County commissioner Chris Labhart expressed disappointment at recent divisive rhetoric in the country and asked Wyden to clarify proposed cuts to the Meals On Wheels program.
Wyden said the Department of Health and Human Services could receive a 16.7 percent cut, which would affect Meals on Wheels. He commended Labhart for his work delivering meals to senior citizens in Grant County and said preventative care, such as ensuring seniors’ basic needs are met, keeps them out of the emergency room and cuts down on Medicaid costs.
In response to a question about increased national security, Wyden urged people not to give up liberty for security. He said he was working against efforts to weaken encryptions protecting information against hackers, terrorists and pedophiles.
Local attorney Jonathan Bartov asked Wyden about protections recently repealed by the Federal Communications Commission that prohibited communication providers from selling personal information such as browsing history without explicit consent. Bartov asked if any efforts were being made to reinstate those protections.
Wyden called the repeal “one of the most horrible decisions I can remember” and an example of “outrageous special interest power.” He said browsing information is incredibly personal and shouldn’t be sold without consent and said he would work to try to overturn it.
Wyden closed the meeting by saying political change starts at the ground level in places like town hall meetings and works from the bottom up.