Hour-long talk touches on Syria, economy, pay equality

by: TIMES PHOTO:JAIME VALDEZ - U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici listens as constituent Ralph Robins voices his concerns about Syria during a town hall meeting in the Tualatin Public Library Community Room.U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D) talked about the federal budget stalemate, the possibility of a resulting government shutdown, and a possible cut to the Supplemental Assistance Program — more commonly known as food stamps — when she stopped by the Tualatin Public Library on Sunday.

She also fielded 20 comments and questions during the hour-long, town hall-style meeting, one of many planned throughout the 1st Congressional District, which in her words covers "all of Washington County, all of Clatsop, Columbia and Yamhill counties, and the northwest part of Multnomah County."

“I'm so impressed and pleased with the attention you give Tualatin,” Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden said in introducing Bonamici. “The district ends just at the next road over. We're sort of on the far eastern horizon, if you will.”

Bonamici is in her second year representing Oregon's 1st Congressional District and currently sits on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, as well as the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, where she serves as ranking member of the Subcommittee on Environment.

She opened by explaining her support of a six-month Continuing Resolution to avoid a government shutdown, an increasingly likely scenario during what has become a partisan Congressional standoff over the federal budget. A Continuing Resolution would fund essential public services, including law enforcement, even with the budget pending.

“Last week, the Continuing Resolution passed the House, but it’s not going to pass the Senate,” she said, expressing disappointment that a draft of the Continuing Resolution that would allow implementation of the Affordable Care Act did not pass. “What I’m expecting is that the Senate will take that part out, and then send back the CR for a vote in the House. We’ll find out when we get back on Wednesday. There’s a lot at stake.”

At the center of budget negotiations was the massive health insurance overhaul due to take effect in January of next year.

“The Affordable Care Act is not going to be repealed,” Bonamici assured.

by: TIMES PHOTO:JAIME VALDEZ - Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici responds to citizen Ralph Robins concerns about Syria during a town hall meeting in the Tualatin Public Library Community Room.Budget issues remained on the forefront, as Bonamici took issue with a proposed cut to food assistance programs.

“For decades, SNAP — which used to be called food stamps — was included with agriculture policy in what is called the Farm Bill,” Bonamici explained. “This year, (those policies) were separated out in the Senate,” which passed a proposal for nearly $4 billion in SNAP cuts.

She explained how the House ultimately removed nutritional assistance from the Farm Bill, and suggested a separate SNAP reduction to the tune of $40 billion.

“I voted against that significant cut,” Bonamici said. “We figure there are about 120,000 Oregonians who would be immediately affected by those cuts.”

Bonamici emphasized that she did not believe such proposed cuts would successfully pass in the Senate.

“Oregon's the leader in many areas,” she added. “Where I don't like our leadership is in food insecurity. A lot of that supplemental nutrition goes to seniors, veterans and children.”

Questions from the crowd addressed the economic forecast for current college students; the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, currently in planning stages; and software patent law reform.

Bonamici was also asked for her stance on the following issues:

• Syria — “To me there are really two questions,” Bonamici said. “Did (Syrian President Bashar al-)Assad use chemical weapons in his own country against innocent people? The second: If so, what, if anything, do we, the U.S., do about it?

“I'm fairly convinced the first question was answered. The (United Nations) Security Council came out with their report. It's fairly clear that that happened. The second question is much harder: What, if anything, do we in the United States do about that? We'd have to make a link that (chemical strikes in Syria) affected our own national security.”

Ultimately, she concluded, “I'm convinced that we would not have (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry and Assad in those diplomatic negotiations without the threat of military actions. I'm convinced they would not be at that table negotiating if that threat had not been made. I'm very hopeful. I think the fact that Syria finally signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention is progress,” signaling that Syria was joining “the rest of the 98 percent of countries in the world and say that the use of these is unacceptable.”

Bonamici emphasized she hoped diplomatic efforts would prevail, and that constituents’ calls to her office regarding Syria were overwhelmingly opposed to a military strike.

• Fracking — Asked about the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — to extract natural gas from underground reserves, Bonamici said the process is not currently used in Oregon.

“My concerns — what I would be looking at — are water safety issues, and whether fracking is linked to earthquakes, which would be pretty serious in our area,” she said.

• Paycheck Fairness Act — The bill that aims to ensure equal pay for women and men will likely fail for a third time, Bonamici said, adding that women make on average 77 percent of what men do, for the same work. Bonamici added that she cosponsored the bill.

“I don't think it's going to pass in this Congress, unfortunately,” she said, describing the Congressional climate as distracted by what were largely viewed as more immediate economic issues. “But that's just the reality of it. I think it's good legislation.”

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