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Stimulus, health, etc., and Wyden

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden at McMinnville/Randy Stapilus

We’ve attended a number of the town hall meetings over the years by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and today’s in McMinnville (number 498; his 500th is Tuesday in Fossil) seemed the most focused of those, on the part of the audience. It may even have been a fair representation, since somewhere over 100 people showed up, more than the norm.

Held in the city’s utilitarian new police building, this was a policy session, pretty wonkish, and pretty non-ideological. Economic and stimulus questions dominated, health came in a strong second, with a smattering of remaining questions (during the 90 minutes or so) covering energy, transportation, immigration and secrecy/security issues.

That health care, as policy, was as prominent as it was should be an indicator, because it’s not been on recent media radar. Wyden, naturally, was happy to address it, since he’s just reintroduced the Healthy Americans Act he’s been working on for some years. He sounded optimistic that major developments in health policy will make their way through this year, and said that President Barack Obama has in mind a major passage before the year is out. His own bill, he suggested, seems poised for Senate passage not with a narrow majority, but with as many as 70 to 75 votes.

(He also answered a question no one asked: He will not leave the Senate to take a job as secretary of Health & Human Services. After all the headlines about that possibility, the people in the audience were less concerned about that possibility than about, well, health care.)

He sounded more supportive, than might have been expected, of the just-passed stimulus bill, his own positive vote notwithstanding. The question to him was whether he thought worth including many of the tax cut provisions intended to please Republicans in Congress, when the bill got such scant Republican support anyway. Wyden said he thought many of the tax cut provisions had merit regardless, singling out some of the small business writeoff provisions and elimination of the Alternative Minimum Tax.

On the other hand, he came close to expressing simple disgust at the elimination of the provision, co-authored with Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, to require corporations receiving federal bailout money, which then gave mass bonuses to top executives, to give back that money – a sum totalling in the tens of billions of dollars. The two senators got Senate approval for that – when, Wyden said, the question was put “in broad daylight” – only to see it stripped from the bill in the darkness of the conference committee. He said he would continue to pursue the issue: “We’ll stay at it.”

It was a wintertime meeting, off election year (and Wyden, as usual, kept the purely political material basically off the agenda), but it drew an energized group of 100 or so. Interest in things political may not have entirely gone away.

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