U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio spoke of national tax-cut sunsets, OandC land revenue, national transportation, Medicare and international politics at town hall meetings Wednesday in Brookings and Gold Beach.
The question-and-answer session at the Chetco Activity Center in Brookings, attended by about 100 people, was one of 16 "town hall" meetings the legislator made throughout his district this week to update citizens on Congressional happenings.
The Springfield Democrat indicated he's frustrated by the lack of work getting done.
"This is the most divided, least productive Congress since Truman's do-nothing administration. I'm serving with a group of people now who believe in no government. They believe in devolution."
He noted that the revenue he was able to obtain for forest counties in Oregon andndash; and the toughest revenue issue facing Curry County andndash; was secured only after 18 months of wrangling and was attached to the national transportation legislation.
That transportation legislation, he noted, will have to be reconsidered again next year andndash; and timber counties in Oregon need to know as soon as possible if they have funding.
DeFazio serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and believes the United States must invest in a robust, multi-modal transportation system if we are to remain competitive in a global market.
Other work DeFazio continues to work on is to get funding to dredge Port Orford's boat channel, which is currently unnavigable; fix Coos Bay's failing jetties, and repair the Columbia River's locks and Willamette River spillways. He is also trying to untangle the bureaucracy that keeps timber communities from accessing forest resources.
The crux of the problem is that there is no money, he said.
That's why, while municipalities are busy slashing programs and services, there has to be a revenue component, he said.
He supports allowing the Bush-era and President Obama's tax cuts to sunset, as that would bring $400 billion a year back into the national budget.
"The cataclysmic cliff is exaggerated," he said of talk that the economy might fall precipitously when andndash; or if andndash; they are allowed to expire. "The economists said it would cost $400 billion a year if those tax cuts go away. If they all went away, the deficit would be lowered $400 billion. These are the same economists who said those tax cuts would create jobs.
"Give me $100 billion of that $400 billion and put it toward (transportation) infrastructure, and we can put a whole lot more people back to work than those tax cuts," he added.
DeFazio said balancing the budget andndash; which he supports as a Constitutional amendment andndash; won't be easy, but it's not impossible. As 48 states have balanced budget laws on their books, it shouldn't be too difficult to get "everyone onboard" at the national level for similar legislation.
"If tomorrow, the whole federal government went away andndash; the Coast Guard, the prison system, Border Patrol, the Pentagon, all government andndash; we still could not balance the budget this year," he said.
Reducing the U.S. trade deficit is key to balancing the budget, particularly with China increasingly taking over the global financial stage. That's why he has voted against every free trade agreement andndash; WTO, NAFTA andndash; and will vote against President Obama's proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
That proposal addresses, in part, how American corporations working overseas would continue to comply with domestic environmental, banking and health regulations. But foreign firms working in the U.S. could appeal to an international tribunal to overrule those requirements. That loophole, DeFazio, must be closed.
"Free trade was supposed to bring democracy to China, and nothing's changed," he said, pointing to U.S. military buildups in the South China Sea and in Northern Australia.
He also cited a time during the first Iraq war when the U.S. ran out of a component it needed for its cruise missiles and could only obtain it from Switzerland; that country refused to sell the part because they opposed the war.
"I do not want to be dependent for my food, my energy, defense, on a foreign country," DeFazio said, wondering what could happen if the U.S. obtained a military part through a foreign country and later learning it had a computer code to track or record it andndash; or worse.
On the national taxation front, DeFazio noted that during the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, tax rates on those who made more than $1 million a year were 94 percent.
"Those were too high," he said. "Now they're too low. We need a mixture of revenue and cuts to get the country back in balance."
DeFazio also addressed Medicare andndash; arguably the most confusing political hot potato for the people it affects the most.
He noted that Medicare plans put into law under the Clinton Administration were supposed to subsidize private insurance companies to sell Medicare plans to drive costs down. The end result was an increase that, in Oregon, has resulted in $3,800 annual premiums andndash; and in Miami, Fla., where health facilities "crank patients through unnecessary tests," resulted in premiums averaging $16,000 a year.
Other topics covered in the town hall included:
andbull;Abortion: "I remember that era and I don't want to go back to it. To me, a government mandate saying a woman must carry a fetus to term is an unbelievable, extraordinary intrusion into women's rights."
andbull;Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act: DeFazio supports "Obamacare" because it addresses problems facing many Americans: the uninsured, and that medical costs are the primary reason people file bankruptcy.
andbull;Medicare: He agrees that the national health care system for seniors is complex and confusing, but that it must be revitalized andndash; along with Social Security. How that is to be accomplished, particularly with the ever-growing number of retirees and double-digit increases in health care costs, has yet to be seen. DeFazio said legislation should include verbiage that precludes the pharmaceutical and insurance industries from gouging patients or denying them benefits.
"We need to take away the anti-trust in the health industry," he said. "That is the only industry outside sports that does collude."
andbull;Exporting fossil fuels: DeFazio noted that exports and supplies on the West Coast are what is keeping energy prices high. Liquified Natural Gas (LGN) supplies are at an all-time high, but if the fuel is exported, domestic demand on the remaining supplies increases, thus increasing prices.
"This is the first time since 1949 that the U.S. is exporting more fuel than we're importing," he said. "If we have a refinery fire that results in a 'shortage' of fuel, prices increase. But we're still exporting gas.
"There is no competition," he said of refineries, the majority of which are held by Tesoro on the West Coast. "There is definitely some collusion in that industry andndash; look at their profit margins."