U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden stopped at The Dalles Wahtonka High School Oct. 25 to hear what students had to say about the future of the nation; it was the 10th stop on his Listening to Oregon’s Future Tour.
“I decided during the government shutdown that watching all of the bickering and quarreling that was so counterproductive, that I was going to get home as soon as possible,” Wyden said.
Asked why he was listening to high school students, Wyden said, “Because I’m looking forward to speaking to adults.
“The young people at The Dalles High showed a lot of maturity,” he said. “They were up on a host of issues — the Internet, immigration matters and a number of students are preparing for careers in nursing. I talked to them about the fact that Medicare would not normally be an issue you would think about when you are 16, 17 or 18, but Medicare is the single biggest challenge in terms of the budget.”
Wyden explained that a failure to provide good-quality, affordable health care can take away funding from issues of interest to younger generations like education and parks.
“There was a certain amount of discussion with respect to welfare,” Wyden said. “I’ve always favored a requirement that anybody able-bodied work as a condition to public assistance.”
The budget is Wyden’s central focus for the immediate future. He will be serving on the conference committee between the House and the Senate charged with producing an agreement to avoid another government shutdown when the current agreement expires early next year.
“We have two big issues: one is Medicare and the other is taxes,” Wyden said. “I have bipartisan ideas ready to go try to break the gridlock. I don’t think the economy can take another hit like the 16-day shutdown. We lost billions.”
He said 2014 candidates are going to have a hard time explaining to voters if they support another shutdown.
“I think voters got a bellyful in Oregon,” he said. “I explained to the students, it’s like adults going to dinner and buying filet mignon and wine, and leaving the check behind on the table for your generation. The time to economize is before you walk into the restaurant.
”They really, I think, picked up on the fact that these issues like debt affect them.”
Rural issues also have an impact on communities like The Dalles and its young people. Wyden was able to get a one-year extension to the county payments law to help fund county services, but said the economic problems go on.
“It’s clear that even with that money, so many of the rural communities are hurting,” he said. “We’ve got to get folks back to work in the woods.”
Wyden said he would be offering legislation to do that in both east side and west side forests. He chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee that oversees such issues.
“We’ve got to get the harvest up,” he said. “We’ve got to go in and thin out our overstocked stands [that create large fire risks] and put mills and people to work.”