U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) met with Oregon nursery leaders Friday morning for a wide-ranging and open discussion on issues that are of concern to them. The participants included members of the OAN Government Relations Committee, which studies issues of interest to the industry.
He opened with brief remarks about the U.S. economy, saying that quarterly growth of 1.7 percent (the most recent quarter) is not enough. “There are a lot of underemployed people,” he said. “They’re not making the wages they need to generate the economy. As a result of this, a lot of investment money is sitting on the sidelines.”
In Wyden’s view, current dysfunction in Congress is holding the economy back, because problems such as the federal budget deficit are not getting solved. Of particular concern is the rising cost of Medicare, which he said will have 10,000 new people become eligible for the next 20 years. “It is not a serious discussion of the federal budget if someone skips over Medicare,” he said.
OAN Executive Director Jeff Stone thanked Wyden for his support of the Senate versions of the Farm Bill, as comprehensive immigration reform. Neither bill has been able to get through the U.S. House of Representatives. In response to a question, Wyden said the lower chamber has become more divided due to the “structural issue” of reapportionment, which has resulted in more districts with a stronger rightward or leftward tilt. As a result, representatives are less likely to compromise. “I want to be a part of that effort to break through that polarization (in Congress) and find common ground,” he said.
Wyden received several questions about the impact of the Affordable Care Act, with several growers concerned about the regulatory and financial requirements it will impose on businesses. Wyden said he would have preferred his version of health reform, the Healthy Americans Act, but that ship has sailed. He said the ACA has its issues that will need to be worked through, but he is against repealing the law. Doing so, he said, would remove the ban on denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions, changing the system back to “a system for the healthy and wealthy.”
Prior to the meeting, Wyden met briefly with a Chinese trade delegation that also toured the Farwest Trade Show, and is being hosted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “I’m very pleased that we have so many Chinese guests and visitors here,” he said.