Ron Wyden, Oregon's senior U.S. senator, will hold four town hall meetings this weekend in Eastern Oregon.
The first will be at Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Irrigon City Hall, and then he will be at the Hermiston City Hall at 1 p.m. From there he will hold another open forum Saturday in Baker City and the last Sunday in Ontario.
The Democrat has become a central figure in the battle to reshape America's heath care system. He and Utah Republican Sen. Bob Bennett have proposed the Healthy Americans Act, a plan that would change the current tax exclusion for health benefits into a tax deduction for individuals and thereby help to provide universal coverage. The Wyden-Bennett bill has 14 bipartisan co-sponsors, including Oregon's other senator, Jeff Merkley, also a Democrat.
Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office determined the proposal would be revenue-neutral.
That could be crucial. The CBO also predicted the health care reform package from the Senate Finance Committee would increase the federal budget deficit $1.6 trillion over the next 10 years. And even with the battleship-sized price tag, millions of Americans still would go uninsured.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Wyden explained the typical family of four spends about $13,000 a year for health care. Under the Healthy Americans Act, though, they would receive a $19,000 tax deduction. The extra money, Wyden said, would allow families to shop around for health insurance.
Dropping the tax exclusion for a deduction, though, has riled labor unions whose members receive the benefit. The National Education Association, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers have launched a campaign using radio and mailings urging Oregonians to voice displeasure about the plan to Wyden.
Wyden also has irked Democrats because he has not stood firmly behind a public option in health care. As he told the WSJ, a public option with a single-payer system is "not where I am."