Walden slams national debt


Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., gave a gloomy presentation Thursday to the Hermiston Rotary Club, outlining the national debt and out-of-control government spending.

“I know people in my profession are just supposed to come and give you good news,” he said, “but you know, I cant do that and be straight with you.”

Walden first decried the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, known as the stimulus bill. He said it added to the deficit while boosting wasteful government programs. For example, he said, $1.9 million in stimulus funding went toward identifying new ant species at the California Academy of Sciences.

The stimulus bill may have generated a few jobs, but it “didn’t do as advertised and we’re stuck with the bill,” Walden said.

Meanwhile, business-as-usual government spending is on a dangerously upward curve, he warned. In January, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to regulate dairy products the same way as petroleum because milk contains animal fat. The agency then began a $3 million program to help farmers comply with spilled milk regulations.

“At the same time families are trying to tighten their belts, this is what we’re getting out of the federal government,” he said.

Walden repeated the latest grim national debt statistic: according to the U.S. Treasury, it’s more than $14 trillion.

“Which amounts to a $45,900 ‘birth tax’, if you will, on the next generation of Americans,” he said.

Walden promised the crowd that in the coming weeks, he and his colleagues in the House of Representatives will put forward a budget that curbs government spending and spurs job growth. It won’t change much for seniors — “although we will have to address Medicare and Medicaid” — and “fulfill the mission of health and retirement security for all Americans.”

Walden gave few solutions to the debt crisis, but did say that “autopilot spending” on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare must be challenged.

For example, he said, savings could be found in Medicaid, the health program for people with low incomes administered by the states. Adding co-pays, for example, regularly checking eligibility and implementing tort reform, he said, could generate and save millions.

In response to a question about earmarks, which are legislative provisions that approve funds for specific projects, Walden said he went along with the tide against them — the Senate has sworn off earmarks and the president will not sign any bill that contains them — but he thinks they have value because they allow members of Congress, not just government agencies, to spend money. The Eastern Oregon Higher Education Center in Hermiston, for example, he said, benefited from an earmark.

Speaking of earmarks, Walden said the city of Hermiston’s long-hoped-for grant from the Bureau of Reclamation to help pay for upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant is in jeopardy because some in Congress consider it an earmark.

Walden sponsored and helped pass a bill last year that authorized the city to apply, and sped up the process, for funds through the Bureau of Reclamation’s Title 16 program. Those funds could pay up to 25 percent of the project or, in Hermiston’s case, $6 million.

Walden’s bill died in the Senate, however. City Manager Ed Brookshier said the city can apply for bureau money through a more competitive process, but not until the city is “authorized” through legislative action.

“We’re kind of in a catch-22 here,” Brookshier said.

Walden said the effort to help Hermiston’s project will have to start from square one again, either in the House or the Senate.

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