Cooperation is also needed on Secure Rural Schools issue

Congress has developed a reputation over the years of letting partisan bickering and other differences of opinion get in the way of getting important work done for constituents nationwide.

This fact is not lost on members of that body. During a recent Prineville town hall forum, Sen. Jeff Merkley railed against the gridlock that filibusters routinely create, stifling legislation before it ever has a chance to reach a vote.

It’s enough to make someone want to throw their hands up in the air when something like the Bowman Dam water bill comes along and assume it’s doomed to the same fate. Local leaders certainly had every reason to do so, as two versions of the bill, one from the House and one from the Senate, failed to pass in 2012, leaving Merkley and Rep. Greg Walden to start over with a new Congress in 2013.

Fast forward to December 2014 and Crook County was left in a similar position with a House bill awaiting Senate action and Senate legislation needing advanced in the House. With days to go before lawmakers would leave Washington, and a new Congress convening in January, it was looking like more of the same. Congress again failing to step up.

Not this time. At the 11th hour, Walden and Merkley announced passage of the bill that local leaders have waited on for five years. A Democrat from the Senate and a Republican for the House got it done. With little time to spare, they worked together and reached agreement with Crook County as the beneficiary. The city gains an adequate water supply going forward, irrigators are left with more water certainty, and a power company can create jobs by building a hydroelectric plant on the dam. Meanwhile, stream health and fish habitat were accounted for as were the people who spend time on the lake boating and fishing. Time will tell, but it looks like everybody wins.

Such an accomplishment should be celebrated. Lawmakers from differing political parties can compromise and do what’s best for communities like ours.

At the same time, it begs to question why they can’t reach a similar solution regarding the Secure Rural Schools Act. A recent spending bill did not include reauthorization of the program, which has funded a significant portion of the county road department budget and provided money to local schools and more.

In this situation, Merkley and Walden took the route of blaming the other party and the other chamber. Merkley put the blame on Republican leaders, as did Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who regularly preaches against partisan politics. Meanwhile, Walden chastised Democratic leaders in the Senate for not passing a House-approved forest bill that would revamp forest management to help create timber jobs and eliminate the long-term need for the Secure Rural Schools program.

Crook County’s federal representatives may very well rescue the program for another year, although at this point, it may only take effect for the first quarter of the upcoming year. Hopefully, since the future funding of the road department depends on it. But even if they do that, this has become an annual problem and both sides are determined to do it their way while the community takes the blow.

They can do better, and they have proven it with the passage of the Bowman Dam bill. Our federal leaders need to rise above the partisan blame game and work together in the same admirable manner to find a solution. Crook County needs them to step up again.

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