Sen. Ron Wyden held his 1,000th Town Hall in Lane County on Thursday, February 24th.
[00:00:06] Sen. Ron Wyden: …And I chose Lane County because it was where I first fell in love, almost half a century ago as a law student at the University of Oregon, with our incredible state. And I was just over talking at the Law School with the students about how I had a chance back then to connect with an Oregonian whose name is synonymous with real public service and that’s Sen. Wayne Morse.
[00:00:29] And I had the chance to drive him around, and back then, if the town had even a lunch program for senior citizens, that was considered a big deal. So Sen. Morse would get asked questions about the elderly, and he’d say, Ron’s going to look it up for you. And that’s sort of how I got involved in public service.
[00:00:51] John Q: Here are the questions and comments from the public.
[00:00:53] Victoria Zeable: Hi, Victoria Zeable. I live in Springfield and I’m recently retired. Prior to the happenings of the last couple of days, I thought the most important thing I wanted to hear you talk about is your efforts to preserve our democracy including to counteract attempts to suppress the right of all Americans to vote and steps that you’re taking to safeguard our election integrity.
[00:01:27] Sen. Ron Wyden: Would you like me to start with that?
[00:01:29] Victoria Zeable: You know, I would, I would, because I think it’s important.
[00:01:35] John Q: Sen. Wyden gave a great answer, which you can find in the full recording of the Town Hall. To continue with the citizen questions, here’s the town hall moderator Nathan.
[00:01:45] Nathan: Next up we have Ruth Ann.
[00:01:46] Ruth Ann: I’d like to talk to you about the budget and continuing resolutions.
[00:01:50] When we had the federal government shut down end of 2018 – 2019, it was pretty painful to watch. I guess continuing resolutions are better than a shutdown, but that’s really not the way we should be doing business. You’re with the Finance Committee and I was wondering what can be done to make sure that we pass a budget by October 1st every year and get away from these continuing resolutions. Right now, we’re in our third one for this year, which is good because the government’s still running. But when I was a manager, every October 1st, I had to go through hoops to try to brief the people about what was going to happen when they get furloughed.
[00:02:27] And then of course we had a continuing resolution so that didn’t happen, months later had to do it again, takes a lot of time and effort. So there must be a better way to get the budget passed.
[00:02:38] Nathan: Next up we have Alex.
[00:02:40] Alex: I really want to thank you for being a champion of science and for advocating for federally funded research. Since my graduation from the University of Oregon in 2020, I’ve been working for a biotech company headquartered in the UK and we operate facilities in traditional biotech hubs, like Massachusetts, California, Bay Area, and of course our home Eugene, Oregon. I truly believe that it’s my social responsibility to continue to be engaged with you and our other local and federal legislators to serve as a friendly reminder of how investment in science really does go beyond our local community and helps us to become the change that we want to see in the world. So what are your thoughts on the likelihood that the budget agreement will continue to prioritize investments in science and innovation?
[00:03:24] Nathan: Thanks for joining us, Alex. Next up we have Colin.
[00:03:27] Colin: Thank you, Sen. Wyden. You used to be such a defender of civil liberties and you would speak out against the surveillance state and against sacrificing liberties for government promises of security. However, now it seems that you either are silent or you vocally support government driven censorship of social media platforms inside the United States, the dangerous rise of designating ordinary Americans as domestic terrorists and the expansion of questionable federal counter-terrorism tactics being used on average Americans often with ideologies different from your own.
[00:03:55] My question for you is: What are you planning to do to show your constituents that you’re going to use the immense power and access that you have being on the Senate intelligence committee to defend the civil liberties of all Americans, despite their ideologies, and despite the excuse of the day that we can expect to arrive out of Washington? ….
[00:04:11] You have spoken several times about your openness, about stopping certain speakers on media platforms that you consider to be obscene and that that goes against the First Amendment. So that’s one aspect.
[00:04:23] Another aspect is the DOJ has been targeting using the counter-terrorism division to go against parents that have been speaking openly against the actions of their school boards.
[00:04:34] And also you’ve been calling outright people who were in the January 6th protests ‘terrorists,’ and, you know full well, being part of the Intelligence Committee, that that designation of terrorism opens up a whole can of worms in terms of the Patriot Act and other antiterrorism bills.
[00:04:50] And so it is ironic that you would call such terrorists when you had over 100 days of protests in your home city Portland, that burned down or attempted to burn down several Portland precincts’ police stations, and you never once called them terrorism. And I wouldn’t either. But I think this loose use of the ‘terrorist’ term with what you know about these antiterrorism bills is extremely dangerous.
[00:05:13] Nathan: Next up we have Beverly.
[00:05:15] Beverly: My question is all about Medicare and basically our extremely complicated healthcare system. You know, I don’t think my story is different than most people in the United States. I have spent so many countless hours navigating healthcare from even when I had an employer-based healthcare. I will just say that right from the get-go. Our healthcare system is really all about bankruptcies and GoFundMe and, we hear about it all the time. So four months after got on Medicare, I was diagnosed with cancer. Okay. My first thought was, what’s going to happen? How much is this going to cost? And am I going to lose my house? I mean, I had no idea. So I went on my first appointment over here in Eugene and met with their insurance advisor, and guess what? I got a piece of paper in the mail that said your $42,000 estimate for care was going to cost me absolutely nothing. Oh, happy day. Now imagine if that could be possible for everybody …
You know, I feel very fortunate that I am on Medicare. I go to the doctor. I don’t pay a copay. I don’t even get a bill. I pay my Medicare deductible once a year, $198, $203, whatever it is now. And it’s simple. I don’t have to manage anything, but guess what? They’re trying to do this new thing called direct contracting entities, where it sounds like I could just all of a sudden lose my capability of managing my own care. So my question Sen. Wyden is I know that you view Medicare as the backbone of our healthcare system, and it really is, my husband’s on VA, which is awesome. So we are very well taken care of right now, but I want it for everybody and I don’t want it to be complicated and have everybody just not have to worry about healthcare anymore.
[00:07:12] Nathan: So next up we have Myra.
[00:07:14] Myra: I want to thank you for being so diligent about having these meetings, these town halls and listening to your constituents. It’s a real honor to have a Senator that does that. And my question is about all the good bills that have been passed in the Congress, but not in the Senate yet. There’s some examples of the Women’s Health Protection Act, the Postal Service Reform, John Lewis Voting Rights, but how realistic is it?
[00:07:43] Nathan: Next up we have Karen.
[00:07:44] Karen: So can you deal with some update on what’s being done about the federal minimum wage? And, particularly I’m concerned about the sub minimum federal wage for tipped employees, which, you know, incredible as it sounds is currently as low as $2 and 13 cents an hour in 16 states.
[00:08:05] Nathan: Thanks for the question, Karen. Next up we have Wendy.
[00:08:08] Wendy: I want you to know I’m really scared. Last November, I almost had my second heart attack because my town, every pharmacy was out of my life-saving insulin that I use for that nasty disease called diabetes and I mean, I lost probably close to 21 nights of sleep. There was such a shortage that even calling Coos Bay and pharmacies up and down, no one knew when there would be any insulin. And I just want to know what you guys are working on to try to protect our, our lives. There’s so many life-saving drugs that, I don’t know, they say they’re sitting on a ship out there somewhere, but it’s a real, you know, there’s a lot of people with diabetes. Again, I hate to see them all end up in a situation where they couldn’t have their life-saving medicine.
[00:09:05] Nathan: Thank you so much, Wendy. Next up, we have Jane.
[00:09:08] Jane: You know, with prices so high, I can’t afford rent. And and there are so many people that are just living on social security with a very low amount. Maybe they just made minimum wage. They’d had rough circumstances in life. They’re just not able to have reasonable lifestyle. I was wondering, I know it’s impossible to pass certain legislation, to have a floor in which people on Social Security don’t get below a certain amount, whatever that amount is to buttress them a little bit better than they are now. There’s so many people that aren’t making a livable social security enough.
[00:09:45] John Q: Citizen questions for U. S. Senator Ron Wyden at his 1,000th Town Hall.