By Valliant Corley
Wescom News Service
GOLD BEACH Sen. Ron Wyden told a group of Curry County residents that Congress will extend the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act that will allow Oregon counties to survive.
"We're going to get this reauthorized," Wyden, D-Ore., said at a Curry County Town Hall meeting in Gold Beach. "I'm going to get it done. We're not going to let rural counties fall into the Pacific Ocean."
Last week, Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said he has received assurances from Democratic leaders that a one-year reauthorization of the act will be part of an Iraq funding bill that will come out of a House committee this week.
The Senate will go for a longer-lasting reauthorization, Wyden said on Saturday.
"In the House, the Appropriations Committee said we'll give Oregon $400 million for one year," Wyden said. "In the Senate, a bunch of senators say we don't want to do this for one year. I introduced legislation for full funding for seven years and I have 11 sponsors."
He said 11 sponsors on a bill is a lot in the Senate.
The funding measure will play out in the next few weeks, Wyden said.
"The discussions are different in the Senate," he said. "Many senators are interested in multiple years. Once we can secure the survival of our counties, then we can go on to other issues."
About 70 percent of Oregon's land is owned by the federal government, but no one is able to harvest trees, he said.
"Let's turn over those lands to the counties of Oregon to manage it for the long term," he said.
Wyden said he would like to have "a very aggressive thinning program" that could bring rural counties income.
He said there are hundreds of acres of forests that could be improved by thinning.
"Once we get over the county payment, we can go on to other priorities," Wyden said.
concerns: Brookings Mayor Pat Sherman asked, "Where is the push to build alternative transportation networks, the push to get our rail system up and running?"
Wyden responded, "The bigger questions of rails and the like, we're going to have to make investments.
"I'm going to introduce Build American Bonds so we can invest in rail and other fuel saving programs and put people to work. People who come back from Europe say Ron, I want a rail system like this.'
"Once we make sure the doors can stay open for rural governments, we can work on this."
He said the nation needs to fix what he called a broken immigration system.
"The first thing we've got to do is get better control of our borders," Wyden said. "Then we've got to enforce the law. We've said we've got these laws on the books. Sometimes we enforce them, sometimes we don't."
But he said the country does need to allow some visiting workers.
"Our farmers tell me there's no way they can get people to harvest crops," he said. "Growers tell me they can't get people to pick their crops at any wage that would let them stay in business.
"They are already paying people over the minimum wage, but they can't get workers," he said. Wyden said he was one of 23 in the U.S. Senate who voted against going to war in Iraq.
"How I wished my vote had prevailed," he said. "It was a hard vote. I didn't disagree with the president at all that Saddam Hussein was evil.
"Last year, 2006, I was one of 13 in the Senate out of 100 that voted for a plan that would have essentially ended our role in Iraq," Wyden said.
"Now we're faced with another kind of challenge," he said. "What we're trying to do is, wind down the combat role of our nation. What makes it much harder, is we keep adding more troops. I wish there was an ideal option. The options in front of us now are far from ideal. The new mission is try to promote regional stability. We need to bring our soldiers home."
He said he wants a better health insurance system where the people would have a private choice so "insurance companies can't cherry pick. They take the healthy people and send those that aren't over to the government.
"My plan, we change the way money is being spent," he said. "This year, we're spending $2.3 trillion on health care. You can hire a doctor for every seven families in the U.S. and pay them $200,000 a year and take care of everybody in the U.S."