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Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection
Dear fellow Oregonian,
11/14/07 - Greetings from Washington D.C., where I have returned for another work week here in the nation’s capital.  The mild weather here stands in contrast to that storm that pounded the Northwest. Fortunately, the fog and rain cleared in time for the Veterans Day Parade in The Dalles on Saturday.  Afterward I enjoyed spending time at the potluck in the Armory as we paid special attention to the Marines as they celebrated their 232nd anniversary. Sunday, I caught up with folks in Hood River at the American Legion Breakfast at the Elks’ Club, and then participated in ceremonies at the Armory where Vietnam Vet and Purple Heart recipient Will Carey was the featured speaker. As you may know, Veterans Day was originally celebrated as Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I. Following World War II, it was changed to Veterans Day as a way to celebrate everyone who makes the commitment to defend this great country.  Thank God for the brave men and women who currently serve and have served the cause of freedom. 
Last weekend the Governor and I paid tribute to a fallen hero during the memorial service for Sergeant Joshua Brennan of Ontario. As you may know, Sergeant Brennan was participating in “Operation Rock Avalanche” in Afghanistan when he made the ultimate sacrifice during a battle with the Taliban. A U.S. House-Army liaison officer who served in the same area told me that the region is “the doorstep for the Taliban.” The goal of the operation was to root out Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants in the area, and according to a company captain, the mission was a success in disrupting the Taliban activities there. The Treasure Valley turned out in large number to honor Sergeant Brennan’s service and to comfort his family. We must never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their loved ones.
Since I last wrote you, as usual I have been fortunate to meet with folks from all across the Second Congressional District who stopped by my office in Washington, D.C., from Medford, Grants Pass, Ontario, Baker City, Pendleton, Madras, Bend, and Sisters. I attended multiple hearings of both the Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, including a field hearing in Seattle on Nov. 2nd. The committees are tackling topics like the low-carbon energy economy, the safety and security of the nation’s food supply, global warming solutions for vulnerable communities, the future of biofuels, wildfire and the climate change, and the future transition from analog to digital signals for televisions across the country.
In fact, this serves as a good opportunity to remind you that on February 17, 2009, the era of analog broadcast television in the United States will end as the nation completes its transition to an all-digital system. At the beginning of next year, people can sign up for $40 vouchers to help defray the cost of a converter box that will allow those who receive their television from an antenna to continue doing so even if their TV tuner is analog. For more information, click here.
VA funding bill
As we approach the end of the year, among the most disappointing failures of this Congress was its failure to send a funding bill for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to the President before the end of the fiscal year. As you may know, the VA bill funds veterans’ health care and benefits. Every day since October 1st that the Congress failed to send the measure to the President, the veterans health care system was shortchanged by approximately $18.5 million in additional resources.
The funding bill, which the President has said he will sign as soon as Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid send it to him, provides record funding for VA hospitals and clinics and includes increases in funding for research of conditions like Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This bill funds important projects across our district, like the Oregon National Guard Readiness Center in Ontario, renovations at the outpatient clinic in La Grande, and the design for an Armed Forces Reserve Center in Klamath Falls and a Readiness Center in The Dalles. It provides the needed resources to hire 1,800 new claims processors to address the 400,000 benefit-claims backlog. And it would increase the reimbursement rate to 28.5 cents per mile from 11 cents per mile for veterans traveling to and from appointments for medical care. These are all issues my staff and I have talked with veterans groups and leaders about.
The men and women in uniform put everything on the line for us and deserve the very best care when they return home. They must know that no matter what, the American people will support them and will never forget the debt we owe them.  There was no policy reason for delaying getting this measure to the President.
Negotiating a solution for SCHIP
Oregon voters sent a loud and clear message regarding expansion of government health care that was heard by all in the Nation’s Capital.  I even got a wake up call at home from the President early Wednesday morning.   In the 2nd District the results ranged from 64 percent NO to more than 80 percent NO. While the proposal being debated in Congress does not lock the tax increase into the Federal Constitution (that requires a vote by the states), once in law, few tax increases ever come out.
As one of three House Republicans at the negotiating table with the Senate and the Democrat Leadership of the House, I have been trying to make sure that any expansion of the federal SCHIP program is targeted toward helping low income kids who are here legally and who do not have health insurance or access to it.
Remember that this proposed expansion started with both a tax increase and a $190 billion cut to Medicare to fund it.  I opposed that effort in the House and the Senate abandoned the major cut to Medicare.  They still are pushing to cover high income families ($62,000 for a family of four) and up to two million of the children they want to add to the government rolls — or about half of the expansion — already have health insurance, or access to it. Moreover, no matter what policy changes we attempt to negotiate, the other side insists on spending $35 billion. And then there’s the unfunded liability in the out years. It would take millions of additional smokers in America to pay the bill.
Now, as a small business owner for more than 21 years, I never negotiated health insurance coverage for our employees by agreeing to spend every available dollar regardless of the policy coverage. Yet, the other side is insistent that no matter what sideboards we put in place on the expansion of the program, they want to spend the full $35 billion. Some openly refer to the extra spending as a “slush fund.”
Let me again make it clear that I support continuation of the existing SCHIP program and have twice this fall voted to extend it. It allows states to cover kids above 200 percent of poverty as long as the state has first enrolled low-income kids without health insurance first, to reduce the chances of children with private coverage being shifted into a government-run program. In Oregon, the SCHIP program currently covers families up to 185 percent of poverty, which is $38,000 for a family of four.
As I return to the negotiating table at 1 pm today (Wednesday) I will continue to press for accountability on all of these points because otherwise how can we have trust that the money will be spent where it should be spent?
Important Water Resources bill becomes law
Last week I voted to override the President’s veto of the Water Resources Development Act, a bill that will allow channel deepening to continue on the Columbia River and Coos Bay channels. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly overrode the President’s veto. This legislation authorizes important water projects all across the country.  Once authorized, Congress and the President must appropriate the money to fund them before any construction can begin.  That funding process requires separate Congressional action.  However, the bill resolves issues other than funding, importantly of us it means we can remove the arbitrary and costly limitations on the number of days federal dredges can be used to deepen waterways of the Columbia River and Coos Bay channels to a depth that allows the region to take full advantage of these waterways’ economic potential. For example, each ship in a deepened channel can carry an additional $1 million of wheat, which would reduce costs to growers and expand the U.S. export of wheat. A deeper channel means more jobs, more trade, and more energy efficiency for the Pacific Northwest.
Congratulations to the SORCC on their national award
I enjoyed meeting with representatives of the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics (SORCC) last week in Washington, D.C. They were in town to receive the Robert W. Carey Performance Excellence Award from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, their second honor in as many years. The award recognizes organizations within the Department of Veterans Affairs that show sustained high levels of performance and service to America’s veterans. Southern Oregon’s veterans are lucky to have such a quality organization and group of individuals dedicated to serving their needs.  Thank goodness our local efforts convinced the VA several years ago not to close the facility, but rather to enhance it.  Our veterans get great care at the SORCC and the demand for their top quality services only increases.
Tumalo Water Conservation Project receives hearing
I am pleased to report that the Subcommittee on Water and Power held a hearing on H.R. 496, the Tumalo Water Conservation Project. The bill we’ve been working on would authorize $4 million in federal funds for the Interior Department to assist in the planning, design, and construction of the Tumalo Irrigation District Water Conservation Project in Deschutes County. The Middle Deschutes River has, in the past, been reduced to seasonal flows as low as 30 cubic feet per second (cfs), and the goal for this project is to enhance that flow to eventually achieve 250 cfs for the Middle Deschutes basin. The completed project, including other work by the district, will deliver pressurized water to irrigators during drought years, whereas they now receive an inadequate water supply in 8 out of 10 years. Once completed, the project will enhance in-stream flows, improve habitat for listed species, and provide water to farmers.  It doesn’t get better than that.
Tumalo Irrigation District Manager Elmer McDaniels joined me to testify at the hearing.
Elmer is one of those citizens who not only knows what needs to be done, but figures out ways to turn concepts into reality. Through numerous innovations and bold management decisions, Elmer’s efforts have returned over nine miles of Tumalo Creek to its full and natural flow throughout all twelve months of the year. I assure you this was no small task. His hard work also led to the Bend Feed Piping Project, which increased the water flow, lowered the water temperature, and added more water to the middle of the Deschutes River. Elmer, and his board, understood the need for irrigation districts to partner with the public interests to put water back in streams while providing a more reliable delivery to water users.  
Open Government Agenda
As a graduate of the school of journalism at the University of Oregon and a radio station owner of over 21 years, I have a firm commitment to the importance of providing people the information they need to be informed citizens of a democracy. With that in mind, I have placed a number of legislative projects aimed at open government high on my priority list.
The Free Flow of Information Act
A couple of weeks ago the House passed the Free Flow of Information Act, a federal shield law for journalists.  It’s similar to Oregon’s shield law.  As an original co-sponsor of the bill, I will continue to strongly support this legislation, despite a veto threat from the White House. You can watch my arguments on the House floor for a shield law here. When New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed and Time reporter Matthew Cooper was threatened with jail for not revealing their sources to a federal investigator in 2005, it became evident that the federal government needed a shield law for journalists. Thirty-two states (including Oregon) and the District of Columbia have enacted shield laws, which allow journalists to protect the identity of anonymous sources from authorities.
I am a firm believer in the need for journalists to protect their confidential sources in order to have a vibrant and free press. Coercing reporters to divulge their sources has a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and investigative reporting. It has no place in a free society. My vote for the Free Flow of Information Act was a vote to protect citizens and taxpayers from an ominous and oppressive government that seeks to silence its critics. In America, such government power would threaten our freedom and our informed democracy. I hope the Senate will act quickly to send this important legislation to the President’s desk.
The Free Flow of Information Act applies to a journalist “who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain.”  It would not include terrorist organizations or agents of foreign powers. The bill strikes an appropriate balance between law enforcement officials and the public’s right to know.  It incorporates measures to safeguard our national security by providing that the disclosure of a leaker’s identity can be compelled whenever the leak has caused “significant and articulable harm to the national security.”
The Broadcaster Freedom Act
By now you may understand well the inherent unfairness of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine,” a rule enforced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) until the mid-1980s that required broadcasters using the public airwaves to provide opposing viewpoints on “controversial” issues. While that may sound like a good idea, it’s practical effect was to suppress discussion of controversial issues.  When the FCC instituted the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, the FCC argued that it was necessary due to the scarcity of broadcast outlets. The Commission thought such a rule would encourage political speech on the airwaves, but  instead of encouraging public debate, the Fairness Doctrine squelched it, as broadcasters feared losing their license if they failed to provide a counterbalance to opinionated material acceptable by bureaucrats thousands of miles away in Washington, D.C. who decided whether or not they got to keep their license to broadcast.  Only after the President Reagan’s FCC repealed the Fairness Doctrine did talk radio flourish in the form we know it today.
Over the summer, a number of prominent politicians in Washington, D.C. spoke on the record about their desire to reinstitute some form of control over what’s said on the airwaves.  If their target is to silence conservative talk radio, they may want to consider the breadth of the net they’re casting — a Fairness Doctrine would silence conservative, liberal, and religious broadcasters alike.
Along with Congressman Mike Pence, I introduced the Broadcaster Freedom Act, H.R. 2905, to bring an end to prevent the FCC from writing rules to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine. While the current White House has no intention of bringing the outdated rule back, there is little guarantee that the next administration will not. Every Republican in the House and one Democrat cosponsored the legislation.
Unfortunately, the current majority leadership does not intend to give our legislation a fair up-or-down vote on the House floor, despite the fact that a majority of House members oppose the Fairness Doctrine. In June, 309 members (including 113 Democrats) voted to prohibit the FCC from using its funds to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine for one year. This month, Congressman Pence and I began a petition to bring H.R. 2905 to the floor for a vote. We need only a simple majority of House members to sign the petition. I will keep you posted on the progress of our drive to ensure that broadcasters’ speech is not regulated by bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.  They deserve the right to exercise First Amendment rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution.
I spoke at length on the House floor in favor of the Broadcaster Freedom Act on October 22. You can view the video in five parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
Ethics and Sunshine
Earlier this session, I sponsored and supported a number other bills that are also part of my open government agenda. In February, Congressman Earl Blumenauer and I reintroduced the ethics reform package we pushed in the last Congress that would assign ethics complaints to an independent panel not comprised of sitting members of Congress. You can read more about that bill here. In March, I supported a trio of “sunshine” bills aimed at improving transparency to the way the federal government operates: H.R. 1254, H.R. 1255, and H.R. 1309.
I also remain the only member of the delegation who published all my earmark requests on my website. An overwhelming majority of members in both the House and Senate refuse to do this. I think taxpayers have a right to know about the requests I receive from all across the district and forward on to the appropriate committees for consideration.  After all, it’s your tax dollars that are being spent
Travel Management Plan
I recently received a petition from thousands of eastern Oregon residents who are concerned about the current effort of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest (WWNF) to create a Travel Management Plan. And I’ve heard from many regarding similar planning proposals on the Mt. Hood National Forest.  As a lifelong Oregonian and one who greatly enjoys recreating on our public lands, I believe that significantly limiting access to public lands would impact hunters, fishermen, hikers, senior citizens, those with disabilities, and responsible all-terrain vehicle riders, and may hinder wildfire suppression efforts, too. That said, new U.S. Forest Service travel management regulations require each national forest to identify and designate roads and trails that will be open to motor vehicle use.  The local forests are required to go through this process.  That’s why it is so important for those with concerns to make them known during this process.
In November 2005, the Travel Management Rule required each national forest in the country to identify and designate roads, trails, and areas for motor vehicle use “closed until opened.” The new “closed until opened” directive is having a dramatic impact on the WWNF because currently all roads on the WWNF are designated “open until closed,” totally opposite of the new national Travel Management Rule. The WWNF is very unique in this regard because nearly all other forests in the northwest have, in the last ten years, designated areas for motor vehicles “closed until opened.” The Umatilla National Forest and the Nez Perce National Forest both adopted the “closed until opened” policy in 1990.  If by 2009 the WWNF does not adopt a “closed until opened” travel plan under the new Travel Management Rule, they will be open to lawsuits and the outcome of lawsuits may be that federal judges and the plaintiffs write the travel plan. In order to give the WWNF a fighting chance in court, they have begun a two-year process to craft a travel plan proposal to comply with the national Travel Management Rule.
I have held extensive meetings with all-terrain vehicle riders and other concerned citizens from eastern Oregon, including county commissioners from Wallowa, Baker, and Union Counties, and Forest Service officials in an effort to ensure that the local public will have a solid opportunity to make their voices heard.  I also requested that there be additional time and accurate mapping information provided to the public.  I am happy to report that the WWNF did extend the public comment period on the scoping document — the first step in the process — by 90 days, which runs out this Friday, November 16. 
Rest assured that I will continue to make sure that the most senior officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service in Washington, D.C. understand well that the local communities in my district are very frustrated and feel the current planning effort would further erode access to public lands.  I think it’s very important that those who initiate proposals from 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C. have a firm grasp of the local impact their proposals might have in Oregon before they are finalized and implemented.
Since the last newsletter, I have continued to travel around the vast Second District to stay in touch with the local communities and compile my ever-evolving “to-do” list. I visited Moro to meet with the Sherman County Wheat Growers and traveled to Arlington to sit down with members of the Port of Arlington Commission and the Gilliam County Commission. I spoke at the grand opening celebration of Pacific Ethanol’s new plant in Boardman. I toured the facility in April while it was under construction.  It’s the first fuel refinery in Oregon and it plans to create jobs and 40 million gallons of ethanol a year, along with more than 350,000 tons of distillers grain for local cattle feeders and dairies.
I visited Lake County to tour the new Collins Pine mill and biomass generator in Lakeview.  It’s impressive to see the investment in new technology that will help keep timber jobs in Lakeview and make sure we have the infrastructure needed to properly manage our federal forests. 
On a sad note, I spoke at the memorial service for Oregon Institute of Technology President Martha Anne Dow. It was a very moving service and a fitting tribute to a woman who meant so much not only to Klamath Falls and OIT but the state of Oregon as a whole.  Martha Anne was a quite, strong, thoughtful and effective leader for OIT.  She built a terrific team on that campus and fought hard to make it a center for excellence in education.  She was also a friend and we will all miss her greatly.
I will continue my series of town halls across the district on November 18 in Condon and Fossil. If you are in the area, I encourage you to stop by. After all, listening to you is the best way for me to compile my “to-do” list and stay in touch.
Condon Town Hall
Sunday, November 18, 1 pm – 2:30 pm
Gilliam County Court Chambers
221 South Oregon Street, Condon
Fossil Town Hall
Sunday, November 18, 3:30 pm – 4:30 pm
Family Services Building Conference Room
401 4th Street, Fossil
On Monday, November 19th, I will be in Malheur County with some important announcements regarding federal investments there.
My Washington, D.C. office is currently accepting applications for college interns. Interns are an integral part of my office as they help with office management, constituent services and various other hands-on projects. Serving as a congressional intern is an exciting educational opportunity for those interested in learning more about Congress and the inner-workings of the House of Representatives. Those interested should fax or e-mail their resume with a cover letter, as well as any questions they might have, to Erica Chalkley in my Washington, D.C. office (Erica.Chalkley@mail.house.gov or fax: 202-225-5774). Applicants should be in college or graduate school, or recent graduates of either, and willing to spend approximately three months working in the office.
Until the next Congressional Connection, remember that for more on the current happenings in Congress, you can always refer to the Library of Congress website here. And you can always reach me through my website or by contacting any of my offices in Oregon or Washington, D.C. Thanks for taking the time to read my newsletter, and I look forward to updating you again soon on my work for the people of Oregon’s Second District.
Best regards,
Greg Walden
Member of Congress
2nd District Trivia

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