Bonamici: House focused on issues other than impeachment
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici says the current impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump may draw most of the public's attention, but the House is working on other issues affecting people's lives.
Though she acknowledges that Democrats and Republicans differ on many issues, Bonamici also says she has been able to forge an agreement to continue federal support of community programs benefiting people 60 and older.
About 300 people, a few of them seated on the floor, jammed the gym at the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center in Beaverton on Thursday, Oct. 10, to hear the Democrat who has represented the 1st District of northwest Oregon for almost eight years. It was the last of six town hall meetings she conducted this fall.
For seven of those years, Bonamici was in the minority party, but since January, she has been in the majority party that runs the House.
"In Congress, it looks like all we do is fight. But that is really not the case," she said. "If you watch TV, that is what it looks like because they are covering the top story that involves conflict. That is what makes people turn on their television. Members of Congress getting along is not really a story, although maybe some people think it would be."
As an example, Bonamici said, a House subcommittee she leads has produced a bill (HR 4334) to extend federal spending authority under the Older Americans Act, which was originally passed in 1965. The Dignity in Aging Act is needed because the current spending authority passed in 2016 will expire Sept. 30.
"I know that with people living longer, we want people to be able to retire and live in dignity in their senior years," she said. "So this bill helps fund programs" such as Meals on Wheels and other nutrition efforts, and support for caregivers.
Although those programs have existed for years, according to a report by the House committee, 83% of low-income seniors (60 and up) who experience "food insecurity" have no access to meals, and 66% have limited or no access to home-based care.
Bonamici said authorized spending levels also will increase under the bill. In 2010, spending on those programs amounted to $42.95 per person in today's dollars; today, the amount is $27.25. Actual funding of programs hinges on the annual federal budget.
The bill has three Democratic sponsors, including Bonamici, and three Republican sponsors, including the top GOP member on that subcommittee. Bonamici said she expects the full House to take up the bill upon its return from a two-week recess.
"I kept it bipartisan, and it passed out of committee with bipartisan support," she said after the town hall meeting. "We hope it will pass the Senate as well."
The Senate's counterpart committee is locked in a dispute that could stall the process. Bonamici said House members want to get the legislation passed well before the 2020 election.
Bonamici mentioned other issues the House is working on:
• Health care: She said the federal government should be empowered to negotiate prices with drugmakers for Medicare recipients, as it does for those served by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Congress, then under Republican control, removed that authority in 2003 when it approved prescription-drug coverage under Medicare.
Later, a man challenged her based on campaign contributions she has received from drugmakers.
"I know there are pharmaceutical companies, like some here in Washington County, that employ a lot of people and are doing great work," she replied. "What we want is to make sure those companies that are having excess prices are being addressed and that people have access to the drugs they need."
• Education: She has been active in efforts to resolve high loan debts by college students. She said there is a federal role in ensuring aid to school districts with high numbers of students from low-income families, including school nutrition programs, and the rights of students with disabilities.
"But we are not in Washington, D.C., dictating curriculum,"she said. "Our goal is to make sure the opportunities are there for everyone, regardless of their neighborhood or parents' income."
• Climate change: She has called for greater efforts to promote the health of the world's oceans, which according to a recent international report are getting warmer with less oxygen contact and less capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas.
"We are working on how to address ocean acidification, both from a research perspective and the need to transition to a clean-energy economy," said Bonamici, co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus. "We can do that while we create good-paying jobs."
Bonamici does not sit on any of the House committees involved in the impeachment inquiry.
She did reaffirm her support for the inquiry, which she announced back on May 22, months before a whistleblower complaint that Trump pressured the leader of Ukraine to open an investigation of Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son while Trump withheld already-approved military aid to Ukraine.
"If the president is inviting foreign interference in our election, that is a matter of serious concern," she said. "No one is above the law, not even the president of the United States."
Bonamici also said that Democrats and Republicans have spoken out against Trump's withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria that opened Kurdish allies in the north to military attacks by Turkey. Trump did so after the apparent success of their joint effort against the Islamic State.
"I am concerned in the longer term about what that does to our relationships, and our ability to find and work with allies in that part of the world, if we desert our allies," she said. "I am glad there are people on both sides of the aisle speaking up."
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