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From Oregon's U.S. Congressman Greg Walden August 10, 2010

government overspending and marijuana in public forests

Dear KBC,

While preparing to head to Fossil for a town hall, I got word that Speaker Pelosi was calling the House back into session to approve a $26 billion bailout for state governments.  The House didnít even try to pass a budget this year and is borrowing 43 cents of every dollar Congress spends.  This out-of-control spending has to stop or those in charge in Washington are going to bury us so deeply in debt we may never recover.

By-the-way, the $26 billion bailout violates the so-called ďPay GoĒ rule in the House by not being truly offset by spending reductions.  And the tax increases they chose are similar (if not identical) to the same ďpay-forĒ used two weeks ago to allegedly ďpay forĒ repeal of the onerous new tax reporting requirement placed on all businesses as part of the health care law.  This provision requires business to file a ď1099Ē form with the IRS whenever a business purchases products or services worth more than $600 a year.  This regulation will quintuple tax form filings, according to the IRS.

Having been owner of a small Oregon business for nearly 22 years, I know you canít force hire taxes and onerous regulations on employers on the one hand and expect them to hire more people on the other hand.

Now, back to Fossil.

I enjoyed the town meeting discussion about issues of concern to folks in Wheeler County, including federal deficit spending, the complexity of the new health care law, the phasing out of county payments and some local land management issues. Like other places in our district, there is deep frustration with the loss of resources-based jobs and lack of active management of our forests.

From Fossil, I went to Prineville and met with local community and business leaders to discuss jobs and the economy in Crook County.  Facebook recently announced it was substantially increasing its footprint in the county, which will generate and sustain more private sector construction jobs than originally anticipated.

In Bend, I met with the Deschutes Economic Alliance, a newly formed group with a mission to bring in economic experts to give an outsiderís look at economic opportunities and challenges in Central Oregon.  Itís not the first time leaders in Deschutes County have come together to plot a new economic course for the area.  After the collapse of the timber economy in the early 80s, the communities developed a new economic strategy that capitalized on the lifestyle and recreational opportunities in Central Oregon.

Friday night, I spoke to the American Forest Resources Council conference in Bend about the challenges facing our forests and the communities that are surrounded by them.  Timber industry leaders told me that even in the down economy of this recession they cannot get enough wood off of the federal forests to sustain operations.  The federal government controls about 60 percent of the forest land in the state but only produces about 7 percent of the timber.  In contrast, the state and local governments control about 6 percent of the forested lands in Oregon, but produce about 8 percent of timber.  As we discussed these matters, about 1,000 firefighters were frantically battling to contain the Rooster Rock fire that was consuming about 6,100 acres of timber on federal ground outside of Sisters.  About half of the U.S. Forest Service budget is now spent fighting fire.  Iím continuing to work on bipartisan legislation to give our professional foresters more opportunity to better manage the forests, reducing the threat of wildfire and creating more private sector wood-products and biomass jobs.

Unfortunately, the House under Speaker Pelosiís leadership has refused to even allow a hearing on the bipartisan legislation that would help improve forest health and reduce catastrophic wildfire.  They can pass 2,000 page bills in less than 72 hours that cost trillions of dollars and give the government unprecedented new powers, but canít find time for hearings on thoughtful measures that would cut costs, grow jobs and improve the environment.

OK, so Iím a little frustrated.

I spent Saturday in southern Oregon, flying over marijuana grows on federal forest lands and then meeting with southern Oregon sheriffs and search and rescue volunteers who were gathered for a training session in Gold Beach.  Sophisticated drug cartels have introduced advanced farming techniques with miles of plastic pipe, illegal water diversions and a host of chemicals and fertilizers to forest hillsides.  Armed foreigners tend and protect these marijuana plantations, many of whom have gang affiliations.  Theyíve brought violence and environmental havoc to our federal forests and easily replaced lawful timber harvest with marijuana as a billion dollar industry.

In response to the concerns of the sheriffs, Iíve written to the secretaries of Agriculture and Interior, as well as Governor Kulongoski, asking for their focus on this criminal activity.  Iíve also cosponsored legislation calling on the Office of National Drug Control Policy to develop a strategy for dealing with illegal drug production on federal lands.

And if you think marijuana grows are spreading rapidly across the forest landscape, itís stunning to see from the air the backyard marijuana plantations all across southern Oregon.  In fact, a garden without a dozen or more big marijuana shrubs was the exception.  And Iím not talking about little seedlings, these plants are big shrubs worth thousands of dollars each. You can see some photos from that day here.

I came away with a much more somber view of the challenges facing our law enforcement officials.  This is about much more than marijuana for sick people, itís about Oregonís number one cash crop funding drug trafficking organizations with deep roots in Mexican violence and a source of cash to fund production and distribution of methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin.  And the gangs that have spread their street wars across California are moving north, according to the sheriffs.

As I conclude this newsletter, the all-night flight to DC via Chicago is coming to an end.  Iíll vote later today against the bailout for states and for a resolution opposed to a post-election, ďlame duckĒ session of Congress.  Then get back on a plane this afternoon headed for Boise on my way to the Oregon National Guard armory dedication in Ontario Wednesday morning.  The Governor and I will speak at the event before I head on to meetings in five other eastern Oregon counties this week.

Remember, make your voice heard by participating in the discussions about national priorities on the America Speaking Outwebsite.  And keep up with the effort to help cut wasteful Washington spending at YouCut.

Thatís it for now. Representing Oregonians in Congress is a responsibility I take very seriously.  I welcome your comments and suggestions, and let me know how I can be of assistance to you.

Best regards,
Greg Walden
Oregonís U.S. Representative
Second District

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