Each time someone purchases gas in Central Oregon they contribute to a worldwide “terror tax,” U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said during a joint town hall meeting in Bend Tuesday.
Profits from gasoline often end up in the hands of Middle Eastern countries, Wyden said, who often then give the money to “terrorists who want to kill us.”
Wyden spoke with Oregon’s other U.S. Senator, Republican Gordon Smith, to a crowd of approximately 250 people at the Bend Senior Center. The two responded to a series of concerns or questions from the audience during the 90-minute session. As expected, a majority of the crowd’s questions focused on the war in Iraq, America’s dependence on foreign oil and health care.
Smith and Wyden proved it is acceptable for members from opposing political parties to disagree, or at least openly discuss, important issues in a public setting. Both senators were not afraid to speak their minds about a number of very intense and critical issues, even when it drew a negative reaction from the sometimes unruly crowd.
To open the forum, a man from Central Oregon spoke passionately against the situation in Iraq. After quoting Hitler and thus comparing him with President Bush, the man’s comments sent the audience into a frenzy of booth boos and applause directed at each senator.
Both Senators agreed the situation in Iraq is very difficult, with Smith defending the invasion and “the need to protect America.” Wyden has not shifted gears since voting against the war pre-invasion and made it clear he is not happy with the war’s status. One of his largest concerns, Wyden said, was the $500 billion already spent on the cause.
“Think what we could do with $500 billion in this country,” he said.
Although the senators views of the war in Iraq are not on the same page, they did agree on a majority of the topics addressed at the forum. For example, both Wyden and Smith acknowledged that America needs to lose its dependence on foreign oil. Smith was the most vocal on the subject, and said Oregon is a prime location to support the cause. Using renewable resources such as debris from fallen trees and geothermal energy, Smith said he has high hopes his state can help reduce the need for foreign oil.
The other topic that came up numerous times at the meeting was health care. Again both Senators agreed that improvements need to be made with the nation’s health care program. Wyden referred to health care in America as “sick care,” and said he is working on a bill known as the “Healthy Americans Act” that could provide affordable health care to every citizen.
Smith said a major problem with America’s health care plan is that it does not pay enough attention to mental health.
“Mental health is equally as important as a person’s physical health,” he said.
Disorders such as bi-polar and schizophrenia are as deadly as cancer, Smith added.
Other questions and comments from the crowd, most of whom were well over the age of 50, addressed issues such as student loans, development at the Redmond Airport and Smith and Wyden’s Mt. Hood wilderness bill that would set aside about 10 percent of the Mount Hood National Forest – more than 125,000 acres – as newly protected wilderness off-limits to roads, logging and other development.
Smith and Wyden kick off each new session of Congress by holding joint town halls with constituents throughout Oregon, a practice they started in 1999.