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Wyden talks Medicare, security


Senator covers lots of ground at Westside Economic Alliance

Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden promised to help secure federal funds to ease traffic congestion in Washington County during a wide-ranging appearance before the Westside Economic Alliance Monday.

Oregon’s senior senator said he’d also seek funds for safety repairs to Scoggins Dam, a key component of the county’s water supply system.

“The uncertainty is taking a toll on economic development,” he said.

Wyden also said he would push the U.S. Department of Defense to buy and install more American-made solar panels. That would help Hillsboro-based SolarWorld, which recently announced 100 layoffs because of what company officials say is illegal competition from government-supported plants in China.

During a brief address and lengthy question-and-answer session, Wyden, a Democrat, repeatedly stressed the need for Congress to find bipartisan solutions to problems. When he returns to Washington, D.C., he will introduce measures supported by Republicans to make Medicare sustainable, he said.

Medicare and tax reform are the two most pressing issues facing Congress, said Wyden, adding that unless its costs are controlled, Medicare will eventually consume all available federal funds. That will be true even if Congress reforms the code, something he said is long overdue.

He noted that the death of the Columbia River Crossing project raised questions about how congestion will now be reduced between cities in Washington County and the Port of Portland.

Wyden noted the county is home to companies like Intel that depend on shipping their products around the world, and that Washington and Clackamas county commissioners are working to raise more revenue for road projects. Both commissions are currently considering imposing a motor vehicle registration fee of up to $43 a vehicle for such work.

On his end, Wyden promised to look for new sources of federal transportation funding, including incentives for private investments.

In response to a question from the audience, Wyden also talked about the national issue he is most closely identified with these days: the sweeping domestic surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency.

As a member of the Select Committee on Intelligence, Wyden has been a longtime critic of such programs, although he has been prohibited from discussing them in detail. But now that former NSA consultant Edward Snowden has revealed them, pressure is building on Congress to restrict them.

Wyden predicted that Congress will soon act to scale back the programs to the original intent of the Patriot Act that authorized them. He said the act required the surveillance be in support of specific investigations, not simply the mass accumulation of all available telephone and internet communications.

“As the terror alert over the weekend proved, the world is a dangerous place,” Wyden said. “But to paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, those who are willing to trade liberty for security don’t deserve either.”

Wyden currently chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. He is also a member of the Committee on the Budget, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Special Committee on Aging, the Joint Committee on Taxation, and the Committee on Finance, where he chairs the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness.

The WEA is a public-private economic development partnership the represents Washington and western Clackamas counties.