By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) stopped by Keizer to host a town hall meeting on Saturday, Nov. 3. Talks were wide ranging, but Wyden repeatedly illustrated the ways in which disagreement in Washington, D.C., is not as bad as it might seem to the nightly cable news viewer.
“TV media doesn’t give any attention to anything that isn’t a fight,” Wyden said.
He talked briefly about several bipartisan efforts he is actively involved in. He is engaged with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on two fronts. The first is the Corporate Transparency Act that would prevent individuals from using anonymous shell corporations to engage in illicit activities like money laundering, sex trafficking, fraud and terrorist financing. Wyden, Rubio and Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) have also authored the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, which would provide new tools for comparing colleges and universities on measures such as total cost, likelihood of graduating and potential earnings.
On the wildfire front, Wyden and Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) have introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act that would end borrowing from fire prevention funds to fight ongoing blazes and leaving prevention efforts underfunded.
On healthcare, Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced the Keeping Kids Insurance Dependable and Secure Act that would extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years. CHIP coverage provides specific funding for functional family therapy that has been proven to cut re-arrests in half and multi-systemic therapy, which has been shown to cut violent felony arrests by 75 percent.
About 70 area residents turned out for the town hall held at McNary High School, many of them from Keizer. In an effort to cover as much of the meeting as possible, Keizertimes is presenting Wyden’s mostly unedited answers on numerous topics he talked about.
On the rising costs of college education:
“The first thing to do is not make things worse for working families. The House republican tax bill is hard on working families and students. If you get out of school with debt, you can deduct the interest you pay on that debt. Under the new proposal, you would no longer be able to deduct. If you are a multinational corporation shipping jobs overseas and you rack up some debt doing that, you get a write-off. There have been a lot of people who have been told they are going to get manna from Heaven. The No. 1 example used this week was that a family that makes $59,000 would get 1,100 back. On a perfect day, that couple might get a little sliver, but if they have medical expenses or student expenses or they get hit by a wildfire, they are going into a hole. For older people who might rack up big medical bills, they will lose their medical deductions. There’s going to be an effort to move this bill very fast and as the ranking democrat, I’m not going to stand by and let Grinch steal the middle class Christmas. I’m going to spend a whole lot of time between now and the end of the year trying to hold off a badly-flawed tax bill which basically gives the vast majority of the money to folks at the top and sticks it to middle class people.”
On bringing jobs back to America:
“We have to get rid of tax deferral. There’s about $2.3 to $3.1 trillion parked overseas because of flawed tax policies. It’s an enormous sum and the reason for it is that you can park it over there and not pay any taxes. I would like a policy to repatriate that money and a significant portion of it to go toward transportation. Unless we step up and deal with the tax system more and more money will leave.
The Republicans want to go to a territorial system where corporations don’t pay taxes on money made outside the United States. What I propose is a bipartisan bill where we get rid of territorial taxation to have more red, white and blue jobs.”
On the environment:
“The president woke up yesterday to find his federal agencies don’t agree with him on climate change. They pointed out that the last three years have been hotter than any point in history. We’ve had fires that are bigger and hotter, hurricanes and it seems to me that they are ignoring the science.
The question is are we going to use the science. What has come out of late is that middle schoolers will learn the most about science from non-classroom activities. The Trump Administration is trying to cut the funding for the National Science Foundation for non-classroom education. I’m going to use my seat on the budget committee to do everything I can to fight for that kind of education.”
On the possibility of ending the war on terror:
“With respect to intelligence policy. We need to make sure we have the resources to get good, objective information to stay out of wars. We have a lot of issues in the intelligence field: we have an aging workforce, we still don’t have enough people who have mastered the languages we need in the field and we have a big problem with cybersecurity.”
On wildfires and fire prevention:
“Mike Crapo and I have been working on a bill that would end fire borrowing. What that means is that the government underfunds prevention that produces jobs. Then it gets hot and dry and all of the sudden you have an inferno. Then the government borrows from the prevention fund to put the fire out. The 1 to 2 percent of big fires would be fought with the Natural Disaster Fund.
What has come up most recently is that some have said that’s fine, but what we want to do is more forest management which is sometimes code for not complying with environmental regulation.”
On the biggest threat to the country:
“Political change starts bottom up and the biggest challenge we have is to mobilize when core values are at stake. Nobody thought that we could beat Trumpcare 1, Trumpcare 2 or Trumpcare 3 and we kept going back with marches and calls and letters. That’s the way you make political change.”
On relations with North Korea:
“I strongly favor expanding financial sanctions against North Koreans. Today, for all practical purposes, you can make it impossible for them to do business unless they pay in cash. The North Koreans continue to do a lot of business with countries around the world and I think we need to make it clear that you either do business with us or North Korea. I have always felt that smart security policy is a combination of soft power and hard power and the rhetoric you use is really important. I thought it was a significant mistake for the president to call Kim Jong-Un ‘rocket man.’ We need to lower the decibel level and see if we can open up some channels to have some conversation.”
On fixing the Affordable Care Act and the possibility of single-payer:
“There’s a provision in the ACA that would allow any state to set up a single-payer system. Oregon, if it wants to, can go set up its own thing. Oregon, Washington and California could also do it together and that would be a powerful experiment. Those can be put in place without any federal action. There have been a whole host of progressive proposals with different approaches and pieces to the puzzle. What I want to make sure is that there isn’t a repeat of what happened with Republicans. For seven years, they talked about repeal and replace and then the Republican dog caught the Republican car and they didn’t know what to do.
The fastest growing part of Medicare today is Medicare Advantage, which is private insurance. No one has explained that Medicare Advantage will depart (under a single-payer system) and that employer-paid healthcare insurance would go away. I think people deserve to hear that.
I want to do some things right now. I want to get tough with the pharmaceutical companies so that Medicare can bargain for the costs. I also want to go after the middle men like the pharmaceutical benefit managers. I also want to make sure we don’t bring back Graham-Cassidy and bills that don’t protect people with pre-existing conditions. The concentration among insurers and hospitals has gotten way out of hand and I think the healthcare industry by-and-large is really ripe for taking out the anti-trust laws. The first step is busting up monopolies and require that anti-trust apply to the insurance industry.
I think we have to come up with a uniquely American system, I don’t think we can take one of the other systems and plop it down here.What we’ve got to do is be very specific about how we get from here to there. I’m not ruling out anything.”