U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden says Oregon is in the eye of the storm when it comes to health care. The current bill being considered in the Senate would deal a body blow to rural Oregon, Wyden says.
MOLLY J. SMITH / Statesman Journal
Amid an extended battle to undo aspects of the Affordable Care Act and an escalating fracas between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, Oregonians largely kept their focus on education and the economy at U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden’s town hall Friday at Stayton High School.
Some acknowledged tensions swirling around North Korea and health care, but it was the other issues that often elicited the largest responses from the crowd of a couple hundred people.
“It’s clear that they’re very troubled by these large, overarching questions,” the Oregon Democrat said afterward. “That’s why I try to always be as specific as I can (during town halls) in terms of what’s on the line.”
One student, Andrew Hagen, asked if Wyden supported increasing funding for metal shop classes after Wyden brought up the importance higher education and technical training have to the economy.
“Metal shop is the only reason I’m still in school,” Hagen said. “Welding, machining, ag, it’s all important.”
Wyden said he did, and suggested trying to get businesses to come into the school to help with education and provide career paths for students.
“The job fair concept is really good, the question is can you build on it so that you have something that works on a sustainable basis,” Wyden said.
Tass Morrison, a member of the North Santiam School District board, expressed concern that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was spreading misinformation about school choice.
“She wants to move public education dollars available to all to private education facilities. I am against that, period,” Wyden said.
Afterward, Morrison said people need to keep a focus on education. While issues like the North Korean threat and climate change require international cooperation, education can be figured out entirely within the United States’ federal and state governments.
“They’re all so critical and all such major issues,” Morrison said.
One of the first questions of the afternoon went to Stayton High School student body president Bradley Phelps, who asked if there was any way Congress could get past its pervasive partisanship.
Wyden said progress in changing that dynamic is one of his top goals, and used an example of his ongoing attempt with Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, to change how wildfire fighting is funded nationwide.
In another apparent attempt at pushing bipartisanship, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., announced earlier Friday that he would not support the Republican bill to undo significant portions of the Affordable Care Act, partially citing the process used to construct the bill.
“I believe we could do better working together, Republicans and Democrats, and have not yet really tried,” McCain said in a statement.
More: John McCain says he is a ‘no’ on Graham-Cassidy bill, leaving Obamacare repeal in peril
McCain’s decision put the Graham-Cassidy bill in serious jeopardy, with only one more Republican senator needing to deny support to kill the proposal. This is more significant because after Sept. 30, any additional attempts will require 60 votes to pass, instead of just a simple majority.
That means at least eight Democrats would have to join all Republicans in supporting the legislation. Wyden also connected congressional partisanship with nationwide political polarization, partially faulting a conflict-driven television news media and decisions aimed at firing up the party’s base voters.
“Much of what is going on is a lot of throwing red meat to people that you think you’re going to want politically,” Wyden said. “For the life of me, I don’t see what we got out of calling Kim Jong-un ‘Rocket Man.’ I just, I don’t get it.”
Wyden’s unprompted reference to North Korea was one of the few mentions of the isolated nation — a significant departure from Wyden’s previous Marion County town hall where residents asked about tensions several times.
The verbal escalation — or, as Wyden said, a “spiral of belligerence” — between Trump and North Korea’s leader continued this week.
In Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday, he said the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea, adding “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
More: What’s a dotard? Twitter goes wild after Kim Jong Un’s vocab Trump burn
In response, Kim called Trump’s behavior “mentally deranged” and said he would “make the man holding the prerogative of the supreme command in the U.S. pay dearly for his speech.”
Wyden suggested ramping up sanctions against North Korea, financial sanctions against Kim in particular.
“There’s a lot more that can be done,” he said.
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