Walden touts ‘great wins’ for Oregon

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden

Keep elements of the ACA but not the ACA.

“We’ve got to repeal it and replace it,” U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said Monday in a telephone town hall from his office in Washington, D.C.

Immigration and health care — specifically the Affordable Care Act the Republicans vow to end — dominated the conversation.

More than one caller asked if Walden and fellow Republicans have a timeline for repeal, but Walden did not give one.

“If the GOP replaces, will you own it or do you have a plan for a replacement?” one caller asked.

Walden replied, “There are lots of problems that have to be addressed, such as individual insurance markets, now in one in three counties patients have one choice. And that will only get worse.”

Walden also fielded questions on sale of public federal lands, and the scope of environmental de-regulation at the federal level. Asked if he supports the appointment of Scott Pruitt as EPA secretary, Walden said the House is not involved in the hearings process, and that he does not know much about Pruitt.

“I’m passionate about healthy forests, and I look at the air pollution every summer because fires have gotten out of control. We can do better to control fires,” Walden said.

“I don’t know Scott Pruitt, and in House we have no vote in the confirmation, so I have not looked at what he is for and against. If the Senate confirms him, we’ll have him before the committee and ask him some of these questions.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden is chair of the Environment and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction on medical research, health care policy, and other areas. He said this is his third year as chair, and he served for the past six years as chair of the telecommunications subcommittee, which has worked for more access to broadband and passed a bill from 2016 dealing with small Internet service providers, reducing reporting requirements. “It was a question of expanding their services or hiring more compliance people, and it passed unanimously as we agreed we’d rather have them building out their networks,” Walden said.

Walden noted that he and other Oregon delegation members have reintroduced the Mt. Hood land exchange bill (as reported in the Feb. 1 Hood River News).

“This has been lingering for many years, got legislation to finally protect the Crystal Springs watershed from development and have Mt. Hood Meadows develop in the Government Camp area,” Walden said.

He will meet with wheat growers this week on the Farm Bill, up for re-authorization in the next two years, specifically to discuss risk insurance problems, and he said “we are continuing efforts to upgrade power facilities outside Prineville, to meet unmet needs and hindering economic development there.”

On ACA repeal, Walden said, “I don’t look at it through a partisan lens, but a policy one; if we don’t work on this, people are going to be hurt. People want choice, and patient-provider centered health care system, not controlled by bureaucrats in Washington,” Walden said. “We‘ve got some great ideas for how to fix it.” When pressed, Walden cited “harnessing new technology” and a pending bill to take away Medicaid eligibility to people who win lottery money, which one caller told him “is a tiny thing — there are more important things to spend your time on.”

Walden said the ACA is “all messed up. Fundamentally there are problems with the structure of it, and we can fix, and bring premiums down. If we do nothing these rates will continue to go up dramatically.”

Asked again, “Would you repeal (ACA) without replacing?”

Walden’s response was, “We need to repeal and replace it with something better.”

When the subject came up again, Walden referred listeners to the party’s website better.gop.

He did reiterate his sponsorship of legislation to retain coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a main tenet of the ACA.

“You’ll continue to have access to coverage, period. I’ve fought for that for a long time,” Walden said. “There will be no going back to lifetime cap on coverage. And your kids can stay on your coverage, period.”

People signed up in advance to listen in and many submitted questions which Walden read and then answered.

Callers identified themselves from Ashland, Prineville and Talent, as well as a Bend city council member, but none were from the Gorge.

Walden answered a total of 10 questions, some with follow-ups, in just over an hour, following a brief update on his work in Washington, D.C. (box, above). Walden said “about 2,000” callers phoned in; interaction was limited to individual callers.

Questions included when he would hold in-person town hall sessions; the Congressman vowed to continue his practice of one-per-year-per-county in Dist. 2, but the next town halls in Hood River or Wasco counties have yet to be scheduled, according to Walden’s office.

On the administration’s immigration ban, Walden held to his previously-issued statement supporting the order but criticizing how it was done.

David, an Ashland caller, cited the conservative Cato Institute report that the chance of an American dying as a result of immigration at one in 1.63 billion in a year, and that the ban is “an overreaction to a phantom menace.”

The caller asked, “Republicans have criticized the immigration ban, arguing it will make our nation less secure. Why have you not joined your voice with those courageous colleagues?”

Walden replied, “We have to be very careful. It could have been done in a more thoughtful way,” referring to Trump’s roll-out of the ban. “It could have been better planned, but I do think we have to be careful.

“I issued a statement that the first job of any government is to protect the country, and while I am seeking clarity on scope and extent (of the ban) and it was in my opinion not handled as well as it should have been, but opens a question: the seven countries targeted by the order are also those cited in anti-terrorism laws that should be focused on, something passed by President Obama.

“I worry about trying to make sure people coming in are properly vetted. I think this should have been done without affecting people with green cards, but it is important we make sure people are properly vetted. It’s very difficult in war-torn areas to do the background checks under the refugee program,” Walden said.

He continued, “The number one goal is we know from a lot of intelligence work, there are a lot of bad actors out there trying to infiltrate through refugee programs and causes.

“I don’t agree with the idea it is a phantom menace. I look at what happened in 2001, yet we know they were actively recruiting terrorists to come here, and you can look at lone wolf attacks around the world.”

Bend city council member Barb Campbell queried Walden on the Trump Mexican border wall proposal in terms of cuts her region has seen in Oregon Department of Transportation funding, and urged Walden to come to central Oregon in person. (Walden reiterated he has held 130 town halls since 2012.)

“Our streets are crumbling,” Campbell said. “Our city planners do our planning assuming we will have no support from the federal government.”

“Why do they say that?” Walden replied, stating he has “voted for every transportation funding bill.”

Campbell told him funding in the region dropped from $40 million to $5 million.

She asked him, “Do you support spending taxpayer money on the wall?”

Walden answered, “I have said that a country with no control of borders does not have security,” and that he favors “building a wall where it makes sense to build a wall.”

“There are other ways to enhance security, but I am not an open borders guy,” he said. “We are a nation of laws and those laws should be enforced and not just waived. It is important we have a good immigration system that works. I have people working in my office every day to help people come to this country and work lawfully. There are people who want to be here legally. I have trouble with people who want to jump that line and blow through the border.”

When it was pointed out that cross border illegal immigration is at a 40-year low, Walden reiterated his support for erecting walls in some sections of the border.

On the subject of town hall formats, Campbell told him, “My constituents are yours. They want an in-person town hall. I do not believe being on the phone is the same thing as coming to town.”

On environmental topics, Mike in Prineville asked Walden, “(President Trump) wants to roll back or eliminate environmental policies in favor of allowing corporations to drill, and cut in whatever way they want to establish jobs. If this is eliminated, we will we look like the skyline of China. We have beautiful forest, clean air for the most part. It scares me, to think we will have polluted air and stagnant water: we have Scott Pruitt, the man who might be appointed to head the EPA and he has spent the last years suing the EPA. You said you are a 20-year business owner, and he has said environmental protections have hurt small business so bad they can’t stay in business.”

Walden said the Clean Air and Clean Drinking Water acts “are all federal, and the president can issue an executive order but the long and short of it is they cannot overturn federal law.

“That’s one of the checks and balances. I grew up in Oregon, I love to get out and kayak and camp and ski, and we’re going to make sure we have clean drinking water. We are going to make sure the agencies are working cooperatively with local communities to make sure there is a responsiveness there, and creating partnerships that work, which is not always the case.”

He said he would “look closely at Superfund law and brownfields law, to get the messes cleaned up and maintain clean air.”

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