Senator says tax reform, Medicare need bipartisan fixes

by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Metro President Tom Hughes watches intently as Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden addresses the Westside Economic Alliance.Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden demonstrated his knowledge of federal, state and local issues during a wide-ranging appearance before the Westside Economic Alliance on Monday.

During a brief address and lengthy question-and-answer session, Wyden talked about the national issue he is most closely identified with these days, the sweeping domestic surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency. As a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Wyden has been a longtime critic of such programs, although he has been prohibited from discussing them in detail. But now that former NSA consultant Edward Snowden has revealed them, pressure is building on Congress to restrict them.

Wyden predicted that Congress would soon act to scale back the programs to the original intent of the Patriot Act that authorized them. He said the act required the surveillance be in support of specific investigations, not simply the mass accumulation of all available telephone and Internet communications.

“As the terror alert over the weekend proved, the world is a dangerous place,” Wyden said. “But to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, those who are willing to trade liberty for security don’t deserve either.”

Wyden, a Democrat, also repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to find bipartisan solutions to the problems facing the country. For example, Wyden said that when he returns to Washington, D.C., he will introduce measures supported by Republicans to make Medicare sustainable.

Wyden returned to Medicare several times during remarks, saying it and tax reform are the two most pressing issues facing Congress. According to Wyden, unless Medicare costs are controlled, it eventually will consume all available federal funds. That will be true even if Congress reforms the tax code, something Wyden said is long overdue.

“The reason there’s so much money in the private sector sitting on the sidelines is economic uncertainty,” Wyden said.

Wyden also mentioned transportation funding several times. He noted that the death of the Columbia River Crossing project raised questions about how congestion would be reduced between cities in Washington County and the Port of Portland.

Wyden noted that the county is home to companies like Intel that depend on shipping their products around the world. He asked the members of the Washington and Clackamas county commissions in attendance to stand, noting that they are working to raise more revenue for road projects. Both commissions are considering imposing a motor vehicle registration fee of up to $34 a vehicle for such work.

“Sherwood used to be a little hamlet and Highway 217 used to be a surface street. A lot has changed since then,” said Wyden, who promised to look for new sources of federal transportation funds, including incentives for private investments.

Wyden sent mixed signals on environmental issues. He touted the passage of legislation he sponsored to increase the output of hydroelectric power in the region. But he declined to take a stand on coal and oil shipments out of Oregon ports, saying he has asked President Obama to adopt a national energy export policy.

The WEA is a public-private economic development partnership that represents Washington County and parts of western Clackamas County. Because of that, many of Wyden’s comments concerned issues in that region.

Among other things, Wyden promised to help secure federal funds to ease traffic congestion in Washington County and pay for safety repairs to Scoggins Dam, a key component of the county’s water supply system. It is owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and creates Hagg Lake, which feeds the Tualatin River.

“Scoggins Dam is a federal facility that needs to be fixed,” Wyden said. “The uncertainty is taking a toll on economic development.”

Wyden also said he would push the U.S. Department of Defense to buy and install more American-made solar panels, a move that would help support the SolarWorld manufacturing plant in Hillsboro. It recently announced that approximately 100 employees will be laid off because of what company officials term illegal competition from government-supported plants in China.

Wyden was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, replacing Bob Packwood in a special election. He was re-elected in 1998, 2004 and 2010. Before that, Wyden represented Oregon’s 3rd Congressional District from 1981 to 1996.

Wyden is chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He also is a member of the Committee on the Budget, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Special Committee on Aging, the Joint Committee on Taxation, and the Committee on Finance, where he chairs the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness.

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