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Wyden covers wide range at town hall


U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden covered a wide range of issues, including state and international disputes in recent headlines, during a town hall meeting at Forest Grove High School.

The Oregon Democrat spoke about the standoff near Burns, where an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge entered its third week.

While Oregon’s rural residents are frustrated in not sharing in economic recovery, he said, “The next step from that understandable frustration must not be to be misled off a cliff by a bunch of people who are not from Oregon.”

Since his election to the Senate 20 years ago, Wyden has conducted town hall meetings annually in each of Oregon’s 36 counties, including his 750th in Fossil in Wheeler County on Jan. 5.

Wyden’s tone was more measured than that voiced two days earlier by Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio, who decried the lack of action by federal authorities. But it was firmer than in the previous week.

Wyden says he has been in constant touch with U.S. Department of Justice officials.

“This is placing a lot of stress on Harney County, and I am telling you it cannot be allowed to go on indefinitely,” Wyden said to applause. “Once the standoff is resolved, I expect there are going to be appropriate legal consequences at that time.”

Forest Grove was Wyden’s third town hall meeting within a week in the Portland area, following similar events at Clackamas and Corbett high schools, and many of the same issues were raised.

Wyden also spoke about the agreement, a couple of days before its implementation, allowing Iran to recover $100 billion in frozen assets and see an end to international sanctions in exchange for dismantling its capacity to develop nuclear weapons.

Describing his vote to uphold it last year as the toughest he cast in the Senate, Wyden said that without the multinational accord, “the Iranians would have gotten that money for nothing.”

Wyden spoke after praise from Rosa Colquitt, chairwoman of Washington County Democrats.

Wyden alternated questions between students and the public.

On other issues, Wyden:

• Continues to oppose federal officials’ push for technology companies to allow law enforcement access to encrypted data under specified circumstances.

“I have pointed out that if that is the policy, when the good guys get keys, you can be sure the bad guys are going to get keys,” said Wyden, who is on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

After asking a student and receiving an accurate answer about encrypted data, Wyden added: “How are you going to feel about buying products that the U.S. government says we should build weaknesses into them?”

• Opposes recent mass deportations of undocumented immigrants by the federal government, but continues to suppose immigration-law changes similar to those approved by the Senate in 2013.

“My sense is that the only way we are going to get this changed is through real immigration reform that creates an opportunity for people … to have a path to citizenship.”

• Says there’s more Congress can do to curb the rising costs of prescription drugs and proliferation of high-deductible plans that require people to spend thousands beforehand for coverage to kick in.

But Wyden also said the 2010 Affordable Care Act, which he voted for, has extended coverage to 17 million people and barred insurance companies from denying them coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions.

“For those who say we just ought to get rid of it, I want to let people know we are not going back to the days in America when health care was for the healthy and wealthy. You can count on that.”

• Acknowledges that Medicare, the federal program of health insurance for people 65 and older, is not a pressing issue for his high school audience — but its growing ranks and rising costs have implications for the young.

“If we do not figure out how to hold down costs of Medicare, there is going to be less money for student loans, parks, water, transportation and the like," said Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, which handles Medicare financing. "We are all in this lifeboat together.”

• Says the nation has a special obligation to military veterans, who like Social Security recipients and federal retirees did not get a cost-of-living increase this year because of how inflation is figured.

“We say to veterans that because you honor us with your service, we are going to be there for you in terms of health care, education and housing. The reality is that there are so many veterans falling between the cracks.

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