Bonamici hopeful immigration, gun issues can be resolved
Oregons 1st District Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici has moved her local office to Beaverton from downtown Portland.
Its the first time the office has been in Washington County, even though the district has historically included all of the county and only a part of Portland.
Redistricting removed a portion of Portland from the district in 2012, but Bonamici said the relocation is intended to help more constituents access the services of her staff.
Were there to help people deal with federal issues, like social security, medicare, veterans affairs and immigration, Bonamici said during a visit last week to the offices of the News-Times and the Hillsboro Tribune.
A Democrat, Bonamici was elected to the 1st District seat in a January 2012 special election and re-elected last November. She has been appointed to the Committees on Education and Workforce and the Committee on Space, Science and Technology in Washington, D.C.
Before being elected to Congress, Bonamici represented District 17 in the State Senate from 2008 to 2011. She was first elected to the Oregon House in 2006 to represent District 34.
Not taking peoples guns
During the wide-ranging conversation, Bonamici said she expects three big issues to dominate much of the new congressional session: the budget, gun control and immigration reform.
We call it gun violence prevention, she said of the second issue grabbing the national spotlight. Its not taking peoples guns. Its not inconsistent with the 2nd Amendment.
She said the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut changed the national debate about firearms, with many staunch 2nd Amendment supporters in Congress saying they are willing to back some additional restrictions.
Bonamici added that she supports reasonable steps to promote background checks prior to the purchase of a weapon, as well as better access to mental health services.
We need to de-stigmatize the issue of mental health, she said, adding that Oregon was one of the first states to require background checks at gun shows.
Sequestration: scheduled cuts
Bonamici said budget discussions on Capitol Hill are being driven by the looming cuts set forth in the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was enacted before she was elected to Congress. Commonly called sequestration, they were intended to be so deep that Congress would approve a mix of smaller cuts and tax increases before they took effect.
Although the last Congress enacted some tax increases at the last minute, most of the cuts are still scheduled to take effect.
Bonamici said the scheduled cuts threaten essential programs ranging from education to health care to transportation. She said she was willing to support some cuts, including reducing agricultural subsidies and military contracts.
And she said there are many tax breaks, subsidies and credits that need to be examined.
Both (Democrat Earl) Blumenauer and (Republican Paul) Ryan agree with that, Bonamici said.
But Bonamici insisted that Social Security should be off the table because it is in a separate category of government spending. Its not an entitlement. People pay into it, she said.
Bonamici said she supports raising the Social Security payment cap around $113,000 a year to help stabilize the fund, however.
Ed funding reform
While funding K-12 public education is primarily a state function, Bonamici said she regrets not being able to fix Oregons system, which relies heavily on property tax receipts to pay for schools.
Federal dollars that support Title I reading programs and programs for students with disabilities need to continue to be there despite efforts at sequestration, she added.
If that money is cut, our schools arent going to be able to make up those dollars, Bonamici said.
Shes bothered by what she called the trend toward over-testing in the nations schools. Thats a conversation thats been going on since the advent of No Child Left Behind, she noted.
Still, Bonamici is excited about a bipartisan caucus supporting STEAM (science, technology, engineering, applied arts and mathematics) education.
Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion U.S. Department of Education program that encourages administrators to vie for federal dollars based on performance standards for teachers and principals, hasnt found favor with Bonamici.
I dont think we should be pitting districts against districts for funding, she said.
Hopeful on immigration
Bonamici said she is hopeful that comprehensive immigration reform will pass this year. She noted that both President Obama and a bipartisan group of eight federal lawmakers have unveiled plans in recent weeks. Both include pathways to citizenship for undocumented people currently living in this country, though the bipartisan proposal calls for securing the borders first.
Bonamici said that was not clearly defined and no one knows how much it would cost, however.
Im optimistic that we can do it, Bonamici said. Part of whats happening is post-election, people say what a significant role Latino voters played.
As much as anything, Bonamci said she hopes the current Congress will break the partisan gridlock that has blocked significant action on many major issues for years.
Thats why were only slightly more popular than Lindsay Lohan, Bonamici said.
Nancy Townsley with the Forest Grove News-Times contributed to this report.