U.S. representative holds town hall


Walden delves into variety of topics

by: HOLLY M. GILL - U.S. Rep. Greg Walden discusses immigration with Sara Ramirez, right, of Madras, and Greg Delgado, of Bend, at a town hall on Monday.At the third Madras town hall featuring a U.S. Congressman in just over a week, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, on Monday covered topics ranging from the federal budget and "Obamacare" to natural resources.

Dispensing with the ticket system for questions, Walden spoke first and then took questions.

"Last week, the House passed a funding bill for the rest of the year that reduces discretionary federal spending to the level of 2009," said Walden.

The reductions, for four years in a row, have amounted to a savings of about $165 billion since 2010.

"There are no earmarks in this budget," he said, noting that there were 9,000 in 2009. "I think we've really turned the corner on that."

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Rep. Greg Walden refers to budget charts at his town hall Monday.Despite the president's requests for increased funding for the Affordable Care Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, the House took $1 billion out of the fund established for the ACA, also called Obamacare, and $143 million from the EPA budget.

The budget funds a 1 percent pay raise for active duty military personnel, and restores the cost-of-living increase for 63,000 medically retired military personnel, Walden said.

Regarding wildfire suppression, he noted that the budget backfills accounts that were depleted during last year's wildfire season. "We know there's going to be a tough season coming up," he said.

Fran Davis, of Crooked River Ranch, expressed concern about cuts to the food stamp program and Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which she said affect "seniors or vulnerable populations."

Walden said that in the past, he has supported the extension of unemployment benefits. "It's gone on for 66 months," he said. "If Congress doesn't do anything, in Oregon they still get 46 weeks. I don't think we've ever extended it this long."

As for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Walden said that the Senate and House both agreed that there was waste, fraud and abuse occurring.

Some of the cuts were "to get at people who were not eligible," he said, adding that a portion of the savings was used to boost food banks.

The main issue, he believes, is, "How do we get people back to work?"

Walden would like Congress to be able to have an "up or down vote" on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which manages trade with the Asia-Pacific region. However, he said, "There's no agreement yet to evaluate."

Asked how the U.S. can avoid sending more jobs overseas, Walden said that the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States, has been "a net positive in the Northwest," which has seen increased trade.

Greg Delgado, of Bend, who was with a group representing immigrants' rights, suggested that NAFTA caused the last wave of immigrants. "Next is CAFTA," he said, referring to the Central America Free Trade Agreement.

"It's a federal issue and the federal government hasn't stepped up to solve it," said Walden, who favors more secure borders and a legal solution for children of illegal immigrants who have grown up in this country. "Congress should address it."

The agricultural community needs the flexibility to work with immigrants, he agreed. "That's what most people are saying: Give us a system."

Walden said that he's aware of the Congressional Budget Office data that immigration helps replenish the aging work force with newer, younger workers. But, he said, "Forty percent of people who are here without documentation have overstayed their visas."

Louise Muir said that the federal sequester had cut back the funding for the Jefferson County Senior Center's Meals on Wheels program.

"It's come to the point in Jefferson County where we can only have 20 people here," she said, stressing that for many of the people, the meal is important, but the contact can be critical.

"I think Meals on Wheels is an incredibly important program," said Walden, noting that part of the budget suspends the sequester for two years.

To assist those seniors who need people checking in on them, he said, "I'm a big advocate for home health care and hospice. I opposed Obamacare from day one."

"Philosophically, I like health care that's me and my physician, not me and my physician and a bureaucrat," he said.