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Wyden and the next few years 3

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

BACKGROUND Not a lot of U.S. senators (there have been more House members) have actively called for investigation into the activities of the Bush Administration. Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is one of them, pursuing – often individually – an inquiry into decision-making at the Department of Interior.

This week, on hearing that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar would be named Interior secretary, Wyden said that would be a good pick. (He and Salazar have worked together on several topics, often energy-related.)

He also, in speaking to Oregon Public Radio, added this: “The Obama Administration will have considerable follow-up work to do, given what [Interior official] Julie MacDonald did to hot-wire too many of these Endangered Species decisions to satisfy her political agenda.” And he said the investigation into the department’s activities should be expanded. A new, comprehensive report on just that, developed at Wyden’s instigation, was just released on Monday. (It takes something to get Wyden, normally diplomatic, to speak this way: “This report makes it crystal clear how one person’s contempt for the public trust can infect an entire agency.”)

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That isn’t the outline of a legislator content to take a comfortable path, now that his side is – after a long haul in the minority – running things.

He could go to work on a wide range of subjects. According to Wyden’s office, his focus will be on:

· Jobs and the economy – Senator Wyden has been very aggressive in calling for creating more family-wage jobs through greater federal spending on infrastructure. He made that very clear during a tour of the state in the two days following the general election, saying the Congress needed to make an infrastructure stimulus package the first order of business when the new Congress convenes in January.

· Health care – Senator Wyden is a going to be a major player in the debate over health care. His Healthy Americans Act has significant bipartisan support, which means he and the other co-sponsors will be deeply involved in Congressional efforts and efforts by the White House to reform America’s health care system to give people universal coverage that is affordable, available and portable.

· Forestry – Senator Wyden is prepared to introduce legislation that will require increased thinning of overgrown stands of federal timber while protecting old growth stands. The believes that thinning second-growth trees in Oregon’s national forests will put people back to work in mills while creating healthier, more fire-resistance forests.

· Alternative energy – Lower gas prices should not create a false sense of confidence. We still need alternative energy and Oregon is perfectly situated to become the green energy jobs capital of America. Senator Wyden believes Oregon has the work force, the locations and the technology to attract and retain alternative energy employers.

On Monday, speaking at Grants Pass, Wyden reportedly focused on Healthy Americans, infrastructure modernization and forest issues (the latter being a key in that region’s economy).

Early indications are that health will be one of the first major agenda items on table for the new Obama Administration, and Wyden has been taking steps to jump into the middle of that activity. From the Jeff Mapes blog on the Oregonian site, on November 21: “Wyden had breakfast Thursday with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who has reportedly been tapped to be Barack Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary. And on Friday, Wyden released a letter to Obama signed by the 15 co-sponsors of his bill – seven Democrats, seven Republicans and one independent – laying out their principles for health-care reform.”

If health care is to be fast-tracked, Wyden will have to be one of the main players.

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