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Congressman Greg Walden's Oregon Congressional Connection


Dear fellow Oregonian,

Here is a brief update on the latest happenings in Washington, D.C. as we near the end of the legislative year in Congress. Read on for some new legislative efforts to create rural jobs and some troubling news on yet more government spending and takeovers.

A bipartisan push for rural jobs and healthier forests

If you’re anything like me, you’re tired of watching Oregon’s national forests be eaten alive by beetles or burn catastrophically in the summer while our rural communities lead the nation with some of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

There’s a bipartisan coalition in the House that feels similarly, and we joined together on Tuesday to introduce bills to reduce the incidence of catastrophic wildfire and promote the use of clean-burning renewable woody biomass, which holds so much economic potential for our great state.

Perhaps it’s how I was brought up on a cherry orchard or owning a small business for over 21 years, but one thing I learned is that you don’t solve a problem by ignoring it. We’ve ignored federal forests long enough to take stock of the results: staggering unemployment in rural Oregon, catastrophic wildfire, massive bug kill, and threatened habitat and watersheds.

Our federal forests are a national treasure…but they’re a national treasure in peril. It’s time to act and get our rural communities working and taking care of the forests again.

So in that spirit, I helped introduce along with Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore…who is also my fellow co-chair on the Healthy Forests Caucus), Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), and Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) two important pieces of legislation:

1. The Healthy Forests Restoration Amendments Act of 2009 (HR 4233) would amend the original bipartisan and successful Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), which was signed into law in 2003. Where implemented, it has reduced the incidence and severity of catastrophic wildfire.

Since HFRA was signed into law, however, wildfires have burned more than 40 million acres in the United States, an area larger than North Dakota, and have devastated habitat, water sources, and communities in rural America. The new legislation would give federal foresters and scientists the clear authority to use the proven-to-work tools in HFRA to address areas of the forests at highest risk of catastrophic wildfire.

2. The bipartisan group also introduced a second bill, the Incentives to Increase Use of Renewable Biomass Act of 2009 (HR 4227), which would encourage the renewable biomass energy industry to take firm roots by encouraging universities, public schools, hospitals, local governments, and Tribes at non-gaming facilities to use clean biomass energy, heating, or cooling systems.

Where does the spending end?

Democratic House leadership announced this week that they plan to increase the country’s debt limit by $1.8 trillion to accommodate the increase in runaway government spending this year. The current debt limit stands at $12.1 trillion.

That increase is nearly double what was expected earlier in the year.

Our yearly deficit has topped $1.4 trillion after the $787 billion so-called stimulus that hasn’t created the jobs we were promised, and a year-long runaway congressional spending spree that has the country swimming in red ink.

And now this week the House passed (but I did not support) a massive, 2,500-page pork-laden spending bill that only adds more debt to future generations, and brings the new spending total for non-defense, non-veterans discretionary programs to a level 85 percent higher than just two years ago.

Honestly, where does it stop?

Today the House passed what I’ve dubbed around here as “TARP II,” a financial regulation bill from the majority that creates a permanent TARP-like bailout authority for Wall Street. If this 1,300-page bill is supposed to fix what’s broken in Wall Street, why do we need to tax investors hundreds of billions of dollars for a permanent bailout fund?

I’m concerned that the bill will increase the risk of catastrophic failure of financial firms by concentrating responsibility for overseeing “systemically risky” firms in the Federal Reserve, whose inability to identify and address systemic risk helped cause the financial crisis in the first place.

Worse yet, a new study by professors from the University of Chicago and George Mason University found that the bill could reduce net new jobs by at least 4.3 percent. That’s not progress.

I plan to vote for the Republican alternative plan that ends the government bailouts – and creates a new chapter in the bankruptcy code to make it more efficient and better suited for resolving large financial institutions. Main Street doesn’t deserve to be perpetually put on the hook for the mistakes of Wall Street.

The Republican plan would also protect consumers without limiting access to credit, creating a huge government bureaucracy, or undermining safety and soundness regulation, and we would strengthen anti-fraud enforcement to get ahead of the bad guys.

You can read more on the financial reform I’m supporting here.

The next government takeover: inland waterways

The government takeovers of the banks, the auto industry, energy, and healthcare may have grabbed big headlines, but the next target for government takeover may not be getting the same attention.

A Senate bill called the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA – S. 787) would greatly expand federal government authority over all U.S. waterways. Most notably, the bill removes the requirement that the federal government only have authority over waterways that are “navigable.”

The deletion of that word is incredibly significant. For example, an irrigation lateral, ephemeral stream, or small creeks and ponds would now become subject to new regulation. Currently, the federal government can only regulate bodies of water large enough for ship traffic.

Quite simply, this bill attempts to trump state’s rights and pre-empt state and local governments from making local land and water use decisions. It also would build an even more expensive, cumbersome bureaucracy which will increase delays in securing permits and will slow or stop vital economic activities all across the country.

Commercial and residential real estate development, agriculture, electric transmission, transportation and mining will all be effected. Thousands of jobs could be lost.

I joined 16 of my Western House colleagues and 11 Western Senators in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Harry Reid to note our strong objections to the contents of the bill.

I’ll keep you updated if the situation develops further.

Something of interest to maybe 400,000 Oregonians

Like me, you may have heard stories from friends or family members of cleaning out attics, closets or any old storage space and coming across old U.S. Savings Bonds. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury, as many as 400,000 Oregonians may hold U.S. Savings Bonds, totaling as much as $160 million. That’s a $400 stimulus per bondholder, with no cost to the taxpayer (a refreshing detail).

And some bondholders don’t even know it. That’s why I’ve co-sponsored the introduction of the bipartisan Unclaimed Savings Bond Act of 2009 (H.R. 4198), with the support of State Treasurer Ben Westlund. In fact, Treasurer Westlund brought this effort, which is also cosponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), to my attention and deserves much credit for backing the program.

This bill attempts to reunite matured savings bonds with their rightful owners, who may have lost or forgotten them over the years. Currently, the federal government has no way to match bondholders to unclaimed savings bonds. This pilot program, which will not cost the taxpayers any money, would work similar to how Oregon’s Unclaimed Property Division reconnects Oregonians with the contents of valuables left behind in safety deposit boxes, Oregon tax refund and utility rebate checks and uncashed payroll.

This bill has been referred to the House Committee Ways and Means, where it awaits action. It is my hope that the full House soon takes up and passes this bill, so Oregonians can reclaim the money that is rightfully theirs.

That’s all for now. Remember to join me on YouTube, friend me on Facebook, or track me on Twitter if you have not already done so.

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Best regards, Greg Walden

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              Page Updated: Sunday December 13, 2009 03:14 AM  Pacific

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