About 25 people at a Shady Cove town hall meeting today quizzed U.S. Rep. Greg Walden on the 2012 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, health care, immigration and other high-profile topics on the national stage.
Walden started off the meeting with several updates on what he has been involved with in the House. The congressman highlighted a federal budget agreement he says will continue to reduce spending of discretionary domestic funds.
"I'm still a big fan of the constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget," Walden said, adding federal discretionary spending has gone down about $165 billion since fiscal year 2010 began.
Walden highlighted points in the federal budget that impact Southern Oregon. Federal funding had been restored for wildland firefighting following the recent sequester. Walden said about $452 million had been added back into hazardous fuels reduction programs.
"We all know with no snowpack and a really tough lack of water this winter we're going to have fires," he said.
Increased funding for the study of sage grouse was also included in the budget. Walden said those dollars are an attempt to prevent the grouse being listed as a threatened or endangered species down the road.
"If they get listed, (they'll) make the spotted owl look like child's play. And so we're trying to stay ahead of that," he said.
Former Jackson County Commissioner C.W. Smith was among those in attendance, raising a question about the Benghazi attacks and hundreds of surface to air missiles that have since been reported missing.
"That seems to be the (latest) revelation that's come out," Smith said.
Walden said he couldn't comment on the stolen missiles, but that investigations into the September 2012 attacks that killed four continue.
"We have had numerous hearings, many subpoenas, lots of data collected in the house," Walden said. "A Senate report came out, bipartisan report, basically saying this could have been and should have been prevented, and yet nobody's been held accountable. That's the frustrating thing to me. I feel like we were lied to when we were briefed as Congress immediately after the attack."
Several town hall attendees raised the issue of people who are in the country illegally and what steps can be taken to solve the issue. Walden said border security should be a priority before any other steps are taken. He also said the visa system is broken.
"We need a system that makes the worker and the employer both legal," Walden said. "A lot of people who come here to work don't necessarily want to come here for citizenship."
Attendees Autumn Mercer and Marya Kain both encouraged Walden to keep funding for hospice and home health viable in the midst of budgetary changes to the health care system.
"It took 30 years just to get hospice recognized as a covered entity by Medicare and, to me that's also as important, to make sure that everyone in this room dies with dignity and in peace and in their home," Mercer said. "And it's definitely something we need to work with as we're facing cuts.
Walden said he has been a longtime supporter of home health.
"If you're in the sandwich generation where you're raising your kids and your parents, there's a lot of pressure there," Walden said. "Having that third person come in and give a little relief to the unpaid caregiver is hugely important."
— Ryan Pfeil