U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici says she continues to plug away at regional priorities, particularly in education and the environment, despite turmoil on the national political stage.
"I am an eternal optimist, even in these hard times," she said Thursday (Aug. 24) at a breakfast of the Westside Economic Alliance at the Embassy Suites in Tigard.
The Democrat who represents the 1st District of northwest Oregon responded to a comment from Beaverton City Councilor Marc San Souci, who described as "entertainment" the current goings-on in Washington, D.C., with President Donald Trump.
"I know people are anxious about what is happening at the federal level," Bonamici said.
"I feel it's my responsibility as the representative to continue to work on behalf of the district and get things done, despite all the investigations and staff changes and everything else happening in the administration.
"There are bills moving and passing, but they're not getting attention. They are under the radar because there is so much going on in the administration."
Trump has said he may force a partial shutdown of the federal government if he does not get money for his proposed border wall with Mexico in the next federal spending bill, which will be needed after Sept. 30.
"All I can say is that I hope my colleagues will say that is unacceptable," Bonamici said. "We are not going to shut down the government over a border wall."
Although she does not sit on the relevant committees, Bonamici pledged to work to secure more federal aid to transportation — including public transit — and protect the tax credit for low-income housing. in any overhaul of the federal tax code.
Among other issues Bonamici is working on are a renewal of federal aid to higher education and the national response to climate change. She sits on two House committees: Education and the Workforce, and Science, Space and Technology.
Unlike 2015, when Congress renewed federal aid to public schools in the form of the Every Student Succeeds Act, Bonamici said Congress is unlikely to pass a similar sweeping renewal of aid to higher education.
"But we have a lot of pieces to help deal with college affordability," she said.
Among them: A renewal of basic aid known as Pell grants, which Bonamici hopes will be expanded. "I am not in favor of cutting funding for low-income students to be able to get into school," she said.
Other proposals include income-based loan repayments — which she has introduced with cosponsors from both parties — financial counseling to help students understand loan opportunities and obligations, and work-study programs more aligned with student interests and career goals.
She was scheduled to elaborate on these proposals Monday, Aug. 28, at a forum at Portland State University.
By a voice vote on June 24, the House approved a renewal of federal spending authority for career and technical education programs in HR 2353, which is pending in a Senate committee.
"It's not your old shop class," Bonamici said. "It's not only to help them prepare for the jobs to come but also keep them in school."
As for the federal response to climate change, Bonamici conceded that advocates were "playing defense." Trump has moved to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris global accord, under which nations set voluntary goals to reduce greenhouse gases.
But she said that in passing the annual military spending authorization (HR 2810) on July 14, the House kept a requirement for the secretary of defense to study how climate change will affect national security over the next 20 years.
"There are a few kernels of hope out there that there are bipartisan members to keep something like that in," she said.
Bonamici voted against the overall bill, along with three other Oregon Democrats. But all of them and Oregon Republican Greg Walden voted against an attempt to remove the national-security study from the bill.
Bonamici also was the only Democratic cosponsor of a bill (HR 353) to direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to improve weather forecasting. Trump signed the bill on April 18.
She is the top Democrat on the environment subcommittee of the House science panel. She also is co-leader, with Alaska Republican Don Young, of an informal caucus on ocean health.
"I am taking every opportunity I can to talk about why we need to address climate change and how it is affecting our businesses and economy," she said.
"But in terms of policy, very little is getting done right now. I am trying to do what I can to raise awareness among my colleagues — and we are making progress."