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Central Oregonian: Walden outlines tough work ahead for Congress

Central Oregonian: Walden outlines tough work ahead for Congress

The Oregon Congressman makes two appearances in Prineville last week

January 29, 2013

http://www.centraloregonian.com/PCONews1.shtml

U.S. Representative Greg Walden discusses national issues during a town hall held at Meadow Lakes Restaurant on Thursday.

JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN

U.S. Representative Greg Walden discusses national issues during a town hall held at Meadow Lakes Restaurant on Thursday.

“This is a challenge we have got to address because it is unfair to the next generation to hand them a bill for $51,000 when they are born.”

U.S. Representative Greg Walden made this comment and many others about the national debt while conducting two separate town halls in Prineville last week.

He first spoke at a Prineville Kiwanis Club meeting before taking the podium one hour later at the local Soroptimists Senior Center. Town hall visitors at each session raised several topics including immigration policy, forest management, and the future of Social Security and Medicare, but the bulk of the meetings centered on the hotly-debated future of both the debt and Second Amendment rights.

Walden kicked off each session by highlighting a Wednesday vote in Congress that addressed the debt as well as federal budget policy.

“First of all, it extends the debt ceiling until May 18,” he said of the legislation, “but as a condition of that, it requires each house of Congress to actually mark up and pass a budget — and if you don’t, you don’t get paid.” Walden noted that although the U.S. House of Representatives has passed budgets the past two years, the Senate has not passed one since 2009.

At the Kiwanis Club meeting, an audience member stressed that members of Congress need to focus on spending cuts to reduce the debt, rather than raising taxes. Walden agreed, stating that the federal government has to stop running annual $1 trillion-plus deficits.

“This is a serious, serious issue for the country. It can’t be dodged anymore,” he said.

People at each meeting challenged Walden on how their party is going to influence the kind of change necessary to accomplish the financial goals he outlined. At the Kiwanis Club session an audience member asked when Republicans will take the lead and tell people what difficult steps Congress has to take. In their opinion, elected officials often say what they believe will keep them in office as opposed to telling the truth. Walden could not provide a direct answer.

Later, at the senior center town hall, an audience member said that Democrats in Congress control the argument and diminish public support of Republican ideas. Walden responded by acknowledging that communications from Republicans in Washington need to improve.

“I believe that we have never had a better access to data than we do today,” he stated. “There is a distribution there that we need to get better at in communicating our message.”

Walden said that he tries to communicate his stance on issues like the debt with facts backed by sources, and believes such information will ultimately rise to the top.

“I believe, in the end, that the truth wins out,” he said, “and American voters are pretty smart.”

Along with concerns about the escalating national debt, audience members queried Walden about his stance on gun control. He stressed in both meetings that in his opinion the recently proposed laws to ban firearms and ammunition will not solve the gun violence problems in America.

At the Kiwanis Club meeting, an audience member suggested that banning certain firearms might limit the number of casualties in shooting deaths. As an example he said that the Sandy Hook shooting may not have claimed as many lives had the shooter used a pistol.

Walden disagreed, and emphasized a need to focus on the person behind the gun rather than the weapon itself.

“Generally, behind each one of those (shootings) is somebody who has suffered a mental problem,” he said. “One of the things I hope we would spend more time on is helping identify those people before they act, and making sure they get the counseling or the proper help so that they don’t act out with whatever weapon they use.”

Walden went on to counter the belief that a restriction on certain firearms would limit casualties. He noted that during a nine-year ban on assault weapons that began in the mid 1990s, America experienced more assaults with deaths than they did in the nine years prior to be ban.

“There are other ways to cause mass casualty if that is what your intent is,” he said. “It’s not a stretch to think that all you have to do is get in a car and run down a bus stop of kids waiting, if you don’t have a gun.”

Audience members at the senior center meeting raised concerns about forest management and as well, particularly the disappearance of logging opportunities and the prevalence of forest fires. As people shared their grievances, Walden sided with them and said he shared their frustrations.

“Do you realize that half of the Forest Service budget is now spent fighting fires?” he asked. “That’s not the way it should be.”

Walden went to say that the federal government should allow local communities to actively manage the forest by removing dead or bug-infested wood. He referenced some legislation approved during the past decade, such as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act, that has helped, but he believes more should be done.

“You would reduce the threat of catastrophic fire, we wouldn’t be socked in with smoke all summer, and people would have family wage jobs.”