Greg Walden’s Town Hall
Reported and written by Addie Greene
“INDIVISIBLE!” shouted more than 500 people during the Pledge of Allegiance at Rep. Greg Walden’s sometimes raucous town hall Friday at North Medford High. The gym was filled almost to capacity with people in high dudgeon despite the 7:30 a.m. starting time.
The booing started when a man, who described himself as a veteran of 22 years, said “The Obama folks should be put out to pasture.”
Walden, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversaw the ill-fated American Health Care Act, said, “The exchanges are collapsing,” which was greeted by boos. He responded by saying that he and his wife are in the DC exchange but that in 1022 counties only one insurance option is available. He then asked, “How many people want a single-payer system?” The audience stood, cheered, stamped their feet, and waved “agree” signs.
Asked, “What do you have against universal health care?” Walden replied, “We have to keep costs down.”
When asked about the partisan divide in Congress, Walden responded, “We’ve done a lot of work in a bipartisan way,” which also was greeted with boos.
An audience member asked him to support HR 356, which would create an independent commission to investigate Russian attempts to influence the election. Walden responded, “I don’t want any country interfering with our elections. We should follow the trail and hold them accountable.” When pressed to answer the question, he admitted, “I do not support the bill.”
Back to health care, which was the audience’s top-button issue, someone asked, “What do you advocate to drive down prices?” He said his committee is looking into what drives up the costs of medicines and hospital care and is looking at a bill to get drugs into the market sooner. Walden said, “I fully support never going back” to a time when patients could be excluded from insurance for pre-existing conditions and insurance companies set a cap on coverage that patients could “blow through.”
“I have reached out to every governor to make this (the Affordable Care Act) work,” Walden said, but pointed out “our state is fourth from the bottom in Medicaid support with an 882-million-dollar budget deficit.”
“Gun violence is a huge health issue in this country,” a doctor from Ashland remarked, which caused angst amongst Second Amendment supporters, whom Walden stood up for.
Jessica Sage, a founder of ORD2 Indivisible, called Donald Trump’s behavior “erratic, unstable, and unpredictable,” questioned his ties to Russia and his attack on Syria, and asked Walden to pressure Trump to release his tax returns. Walden responded, “Assad is a monster and deserved what he got—it was appropriate. In America you have privacy over your tax data,” which also was greeted with boos.
“What are you going to do to protect the EPA?” another audience member asked. “I don’t believe climate change is a hoax,” Walden answered, but “all too often the EPA has overreached,” again greeted with boos. He said he and Rep. Earl Blumenauer hiked Mt. Hood and worked together to create the Wilderness Bill. He also said he supported forest thinning in the Ashland watershed to prevent wildfires.
When asked what Walden would do about Trump’s violations of the Emoluments Clause with his many conflicts of interest, the congressman responded “The Energy and Commerce Committee doesn’t have jurisdiction.” When he couldn’t dodge questions in this way, he often just refused to answer them.
Another audience member asked what Congress would do about the exorbitant amounts being spent on security for Trump family members, Walden said “There is a capped amount that can be spent” and said only one residence was covered, which was greeted with calls of “Lies.”
When an audience member suggested that insurance company CEOs should be heavily taxed to support health care, Walden responded, “We need a broader discussion on tax policy” and no one group of people should be “singled out.” “People should be treated the same.”
“Jim Crary will not take corporate money when he runs against you,” another audience member said. “Will you make that same pledge?” “All I owe is a ‘thank you,’” Walden replied.
When asked about the 10-billion-dollar budget for “The Wall,” Walden said he voted for 700 miles of border security in 2006. “A country that doesn’t have control over its borders doesn’t have security,” he said.
Walden also discussed crop insurance, which he called “a very important tool all across our district,” called for reform of a “broken (Pentagon) procurement system,” and said we “should be using biomass for generating electricity.” He mentioned the infrastructure bill, which he said has had three hearings, and told a U of O student that he would sign a letter protesting the Chechen incarceration of gay men in concentration camps.
When an audience member said, “Oregon is at risk with the LNG pipeline. We no longer have a democracy because of the power of corporations,” Walden didn’t respond at all.