Rep. Peter DeFazio sweeps through Coos and Curry Counties on town hall tour
By Jim Walker
U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, came to the south coast last Friday and Saturday for a series of town halls. On his whirlwind tour of Coos and Curry Counties, the veteran Congressman addressed issues such as the war in Iraq, mounting pressure to impeach President George Bush and/or Vice President Dick Cheney, the rising National Debt, Veterans' benefits, county payments, student loans, alternative energy, health care, the balance between thinning efforts in the nation's forests and conservation and other topics.
DeFazio also responded to a number of questions from local constituents.
During the Congressional recess, he hosted 16 town halls in the month of August.
Thursday, for example, he held three meetings in Coos County, each scheduled just far enough apart to give him time to get to the next session.
Friday, the whirlwind tour continued with three town halls in Curry County, beginning with a morning session in Brookings. At 12:30 p.m., he arrived in Gold Beach for another one-hour meeting in the Blue Room of the Courthouse Annex with his south coast constituents, updating just over 20 people on Congressional activities and taking public input, before heading to Port Orford to complete his two-day tour of Coos and Curry Counties.
The veteran congressman opened his meeting in Gold Beach by pointing out that Congress had reinstated a common sense rule that had been in place for a long time in the past: "pay-as-you-go." For the past six years, the national debt has gone from five trillion to nine trillion, he said, "and that's not sustainable."
The plan now is to have the national budget balanced by 2012, DeFazio pointed out.
DeFazio said that the one-year extension of the county payments legislation was tagged on to an emergency spending bill this year and legislators are currently working on a long-term bill. However, there are disagreements on how to fund a long-term county payments program, he noted.
DeFazio was pleased that Veterans' benefits received the largest increase in 77 years. He also explained that he was pleased with provisions in a reconciliation bill regarding extending tax cuts to pay for health care for seniors and food for children in low-income families.
He also talked about doing away with bank-subsidized loans for college students. DeFazio said he supports efforts to go to direct student loans.
Congress, he explained, also passed an energy bill that takes away some of the subsidies for oil companies, redirecting some of the money for research on alternative energy such as biodiesel, wave energy and wind energy, among others.
When DeFazio was asked about articles of impeachment for Vice President Dick Cheney, he responded that first, there's a criteria that must be met. He said impeachment efforts tie up Congress, referring to the attempt to impeach former President Bill Clinton.
67 Senators, he continued, won't vote for impeachment. "In the end, it won't happen." And, he added, "If you impeach Cheney, you get a new Vice President who has a leg up (for President) in the next election."
However, DeFazio explained he supports impeaching Attorney General Gonzales, who has been a roadblock to Congress on several fronts, including the firings of federal attorneys. "He has the worst memory I know," DeFazio emphasized. "He is the roadblock here." DeFazio said Gonzales has refused to take subpoenas to court and "doesn't know the Constitution."
Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bonté thanked DeFazio for his efforts to reauthorize county payments and pointed out that there must be additional sources of fundingfor the Sheriff's Department, for example.
She said that since one of the tasks of the Sheriff's Department is to respond to victims of domestic abuse, perhaps either federal or state funding could be redirected to bolster those types of activities by the Sheriff.
The Sheriff's office, she explained, also transports clients with mental health issues to facilities around the state. "Are there ways to increase these kinds of shortfalls?" she asked.
DeFazio said he would research how victims' assistance money is distributed.
La Bonté also touched on the funding of Veterans' programs. "Is there any of the Vets' money coming to the counties?"
Most of the emphasis has been on addressing the shortfalls in medical benefits and other benefits, he explained. While the government is working on several things regarding Veterans, he noted, there are no new programs forthcoming.
"The state is only partially funding (Veterans' Services)," La Bonté pointed out.
"If we lose some VSOs (Veterans' Services Officers), we'll continue to fall farther and farther behind," DeFazio said. He explained that the Veterans' facility at White City has been a "tremendous asset."
But, he added, "Mental health has been a problem ever since I was a Commissioner (Lane Co.)."
Responding to a question regarding alternative energy sources, DeFazio said the energy bill passed by Congress several weeks ago "will help change direction." In addition to cutting back on subsidies to oil companies, the bill has provisions to invest in alternatives and offers tax credits to encourage consumers.
DeFazio chided the President for not focusing on ending America's dependence on oil from the Middle East. "The President should have said we don't want to depend on the Middle East," he emphasized.
Bill McNair, a Gold Beach Port Commissioner, thanked DeFazio for his efforts to procure $500,000 in earmarked funds for the High Dock repair at the port. "I wanted you to know I'm here to represent the portto put a face on the project," he told DeFazio.
"I'm willing to brag about what I get earmarked," DeFazio replied.
A woman in the audience asked why people on Social Security have to wait two years for Medicare. She explained that she is on disability and makes less than one-half on the $24,000 required to be considered at the poverty level. She also told DeFazio that she is living with incurable cancer"and doctors want cash."
The system, she added, needs to be revised, and more training should be given to the people who decide who gets disability payments.
"We need to assure each American gets good health care," DeFazio responded.
In response to a question about a preemptive attack on Iran, which is developing nuclear weapon capabilities, DeFazio said there's a debate in the Bush administration.
And, he added, "Iran is one place where people think we're okay. It would be a disaster. It would be an unbelievable mess and only set nuclear capabilities back for a few years."
For a preemptive attack, the President must come to Congress for approval, DeFazio noted. "I support Israel's right to exist, but this (attack on Iran) wouldn't be in their interests. Condeleeza (Rice, Secretary of State) is against it. The new Secretary of Defense has concerns. Cheney wants it."
A question regarding the National Emergency Disaster Plan and the continuity of government was also raised during the one-hour town hall. DeFazio said his House Committee on Homeland Security was supposed to get a classified version of the plan but was later told the committee couldn't have it after all.
Later, a formal request from the committee was also denied. But, DeFazio emphasized, the efforts will continue to secure a copy of the plan.
Mike Meszaros, who lives in Agness, addressed the Forest Service's lack of funding to maintain roads and BLM's new logging plan. "Have you had a chance to review it?" he asked DeFazio.
"I received three volumes on Monday," DeFazio said. He explained that while he understands some of the presumptions for the plan, he felt the premises aren't supportable. "I'm a little worried it's been tampered with," he said. He also said he doubted "that it's going to happen."
He explained that the "big, old trees" should be saved while there is a backlog of areas in Oregon that need thinning. "Concentrate on commercial thinning and save the old growth," he emphasized.
He said his harvest plan was independent from the BLM plan. His plan, which is based on more science, would include increasing the county share.
Finally, DeFazio, who sits on the House National Resources Committee and National Parks, Forests & Public Roads Subcommittee, said he would take his proposal to the public later.
DeFazio is also a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.