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Wyden: Public deeply skeptical

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., was asked by a resident of The Dalles Tuesday if he believed elected officials should be held to a higher standard of conduct, which earned an emphatic “yes” answer.

Bill McBurney then asked Wyden if sanctions should be imposed on senators and representatives who failed to live up to that expectation, and who should carry out those penalties.

With Congressional approval ratings sinking to historic lows in recent public opinion polls, McBurney said it is time to change how things are being done. “We can’t function as a nation like this, we are not functioning correctly. We’re in serious trouble,” he said.

Wyden said there was no question that Americans today understandably have a deep skepticism about government institutions and even the military, which is grappling with high rates of sexual assault.

“I don’t pretend to have all the answers, not by a long shot,” he said. “That’s why I have all these town hall meetings. I want to show people it’s possible to do government the way the founding fathers envisioned.”

He said sanctioning leaders became a complex legal matter because it was often difficult to prove wrongdoing. He said the electorate had the power to hold politicians accountable for their actions or inaction by their votes.

“Growing up I never thought someone like myself would have these kinds of opportunities,” said Wyden. “And as long as I’m in office, I will do my best.”

The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence acted as moderator for the 90-minute meeting at the Oregon Veterans’ Home and drew tickets which determined the order that questions could be asked.

It was Wyden’s 698th town hall since taking office in 1996 and he fielded numerous questions from those who had served in the armed forces, and called upon the audience to give these men and women a round of applause.

In several cases, he agreed to have a staffer look into problems regarding benefits and compensation that were owed but not being paid to area veterans.

Jim Burres, a Navy veteran, asked Wyden to investigate a government cover-up of birth defects and diseases plaguing families of sailors who had been stationed on the Treasure Island base in California from 1957-69. During that time sailors were being trained to clean-up radioactive contamination that Burres said has since resulted in severe health problems for them and their children.

He also asked Wyden to investigate why researchers hired to assist veteran service officers in St. Louis, Mo., were being denied access to files. He said without evidence compiled by these individuals, it was impossible to get claims and benefits awarded to veterans.

Twice, Wyden was attacked by audience members who accused him and other members of Congress, and the Obama Administration, of making foreign policy decisions that were leading to World War III.

They said the situation in the Ukraine caused by Russian aggression, with approval by China, was spiraling out of control. They said the turmoil was being perpetuated on purpose to collapse the entire trans-Atlantic financial system and President Barack Obama should be impeached for his complicity.

“What are you going to do to step a thermonuclear war?” they asked.

Wyden and Lawrence cut off the arguments waged by the two men after they refused to yield the floor. These individuals later passed out a position paper from the Lyndon LaRouche political action committee.

“Respectfully, I just disagree with much of what you said,” said Wyden.

He said Obama had promised that no U.S. troops would be on the ground in Ukraine and he agreed with economic sanctions against Russia for the invasion of Crimea.

Wyden was praised by one audience member for supporting the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act because the health care overall had provided her with coverage.

The senator said what had happened with Cover Oregon, the online marketplace for health care that was created at high expense and still isn’t fully operational, was “completely unacceptable.” He said Gov. John Kitzhaber and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden had joined him in calling for a General Accountability Office investigation into the flawed system that had cost taxpayers millions.

Wyden said when Pres. George W. Bush proposed Medicare Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage, there was opposition similar to that with a new health care delivery system. However, costs for the new Medicare program came in 30 percent below what the Congressional Budget office had projected and there was now high consumer satisfaction. He believed similar results would play out with the act more commonly known as “Obamacare.”

“It’s a major reform that I wanted to see from the days when I had hair, rugged good looks and worked for the Gray Panthers,” he said, vowing to oppose any Republican efforts to repeal the law.

“I think we ought to think carefully about turning back the clock to the days when insurance companies could shun someone for a pre-existing condition.”

Other issues discussed at the April 15 forum included more federal funding for schools and road maintenance and greater regulation of oil trains passing through the gorge and exports overseas. Also discussed was stopping catastrophic fires with managed harvests of national forests and reining in the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance activities on Americans.

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