Oregon’s lone congressional Republican rising in rank
by Andrew Clevenger
Published: October 02. 2012 4:00AM PST
WASHINGTON — When voters in Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District look at their ballots this fall, they’ll see a pair of familiar names: Republican Greg Walden and Democrat Joyce Segers.
The pair also faced off in 2010, with incumbent Walden handily defeating Segers to earn his seventh term in Congress.
But circumstances — including Walden’s position in Washington — are different in 2012. Thanks to a nationwide surge in 2010, Republicans reclaimed control of the House of Representatives, putting the speaker’s gavel in the hands of longtime Walden friend and ally John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Walden became deputy chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Boehner hinted recently that Walden could become chair of the party’s campaign efforts in the House after the election.
“I think it can be a real benefit to the people I represent,” Walden said of the possibility of becoming fifth in seniority in the House and continuing as the only member of Oregon’s congressional delegation in a leadership position in Congress. “It puts you at the leadership table,” which doesn’t mean you always get your way, but at least you get to have input into the discussion,” he said.
Should he win an eighth term, the Hood River resident’s top legislative prioritties would include a long-term fix for federal payments to timber counties. Congress recently approved a one-year extension of the payments program, providing funding through the end of fiscal year 2013. But that tees up another fight over passage for the next session of Congress, and provides little long-term certainty for Oregon counties facing shrinking budgets.
“We’ve got to get a permanent solution that really works. I think we’re on the cusp of that,” Walden said.
Additionally, Walden looks to build on his work as chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology to promote smart development and integration of technology into both Oregon’s and the nation’s economies.
“Making sure our communities have the latest technology and access to broadband means jobs,” he said, noting that 50,000 jobs in Oregon are connected to the communications industry.
Walden also hopes to repeal and replace “Obamacare,” as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has come to be known. Having been a small-business owner who supplied coverage for his employees and spent five years on the board of a community hospital, Walden said he has multiple perspectives on health care, and has doubts about the implications of the act.
“There’s an enormous amount of uncertainty,” he said, adding that a recent study by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office concluded that 11 million Americans would be subject to the tax penalty under the law’s individual mandate.
“It amounts to an enormous new tax on the middle class,” he said. “I still think it’s not built to survive fiscally and should be replaced.”
Segers, an Ashland resident who sold her medical billing company in 2008, said she supports the Affordable Health Care Act and would fight efforts to repeal it. Health care costs could be reduced by changing the eligibility for Medicare by removing the age requirement, she said.
“I think that Medicare will pay for itself if we can offer it in what some people call Medicare for all,” she said. “You would be infusing an enormous amount of money into the system, and because you have a healthier population (in the program), you’re going to have a reduction in (the cost of) claims.”
Divisive and edgy
The candidates’ positions on health care — and that it remains a highly divisive issue — point to another key difference in this contest. Unlike 2010’s mid-year election, President Barack Obama is on the ballot this year, and more voters will turn out because of his and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presence at the top of the ticket.
For Walden, the failure of Obama and the Democrat-controlled Senate to act on measures coming out of the Republican-controlled House underscores the importance of Republicans winning the Senate and White House this election.
For example, in August the House passed a one-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, which are set to expire on Jan. 1 . In 2010, Democrats agreed to a two-year extension of the cuts, saying it was a bad time to raise taxes , but, he asked , is the economy so much better off now as to justify a different conclusion?
“I think we ought to do a one-year extension and then rewrite the tax code,” he said.
Segers said Walden puts party loyalty ahead of the interests of his constituents. She cited his recent vote in support of the House version the Violence Against Women Act, which, unlike the Democratic version that passed the Senate, does not extend protections for women victims of domestic violence who are Native Americans, undocumented immigrants or lesbian , gay , bisexual or transgendered individuals.
“Congressman Walden voted to exclude those minorities. That sent a big message out to the people of the 2nd District,” she said. “No matter who you are, you should be protected from violence.”
But whoever occupies the White House and controls Congress in January, lawmakers will face the unenviable task of dealing with the looming “fiscal cliff.” That is shorthand for the expiration of the Bush and payroll tax cuts, the implementation of $1.2 trillion in mandatory spending cuts agreed to last year as part of sequestration and the need to raise the debt limit in early 2013.
Walden likened the fiscal situation to a party thrown by teenagers when their parents aren’t home. No matter who wins in November, there’s going to be a mess to clean up come morning, he said.
The House has already passed legislation that would avert the most harmful cuts to the defense budget, he said. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently said that if sequestration goes into effect as authorized, the Army would be forced to reduce troop levels to the lowest since 1940, the Navy would have the fewest ships since 1915 and the Air Force would be the smallest in its history.
“I don’t think that’s acceptable when we have conflicts going on overseas,” Walden said.
Defense spending represents 20 percent of the federal budget but is getting half of the mandatory cuts, he said.
“The public expects the Congress to get its job done,” he said. “We’re trying to do our part about being more thoughtful about how the cuts occur.”
For Segers, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, and the subsequent increase in revenue, represents an opportunity for more spending programs in a smaller version of the stimulus plan from 2009.
“(For) a turnaround, there has to be an investment in this country that comes from the government,” she said. “We’re in a place where creating jobs is the most important thing we can do, and it might take some government money to do that.”