Sen. Wyden sounds off on oil companies

<I>Corey Wicks/Chieftain</I><BR>Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) fielded questions Sunday from the 50 people who attended the town hall meeting. Without a bill to stabilize federal funding, rural schools will be in dire straights and have to go to a three-day week, Wyden said.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says every time a motorist fills up his gas tank he is unwittingly subsidizing terrorist organizations.

"Our dependence on foreign oil is nothing less than a terror tax," Wyden said Sunday at a town hall meeting in Enterprise.

About 50 people attended the meeting at the Wallowa County Courthouse, which was part of Wyden's 1996 campaign promise to hold such meetings in all 36 of Oregon's counties.

If a person pays $3.09 at the pump for a gallon of gas, Wyden said, a portion of the gas tax finds its way back to the coffers of the government of Saudi Arabia, and a portion of that money goes towards funding terrorist organizations.

Wyden said that in recent energy hearings he was one of the few senators who asked tough questions of oil executives. He went down the line and asked each one of the executives whether they needed any new subsidies, given that the oil companies have had record profits lately. Each executive admitted that they didn't need it, he said.

"I'm going to do my best to blow the whistle on how outrageous these subsidies are," Wyden said.

Wyden expressed interest in a biodiesel project that citizens of Imnaha have started in a joint venture with Oregon State University. They will use a processor to transform sunflower and canola oil into biodiesel.

"Excellent. It looks like we're singing from the same hymnal," Wyden said.

The senator took questions from the audience. One person asked how to restore credibility to the presidential election process by having some kind of a paper trail to fall back on.

"You're being too logical," Wyden replied. "You know, heaven forbid that logic would break out" in the federal election process.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that the election must be determined at the local level. Wyden hopes to take the model of Oregon's electoral process nationwide.

When asked about whether the funding to rebuild the 75-year old Wallowa Lake Dam would come through soon, Wyden said it was ironic that we could spend billions of dollars to rebuild Iraq when there was a great deal of infrastructure projects in our own country that are languishing.

"We need to do a little rebuilding here at home," he said.

Nevertheless, Wyden was optimistic the bill to fund the dam could be passed soon. "We hope we're going to get it done this session. It's been way way too long," he said.

Rural schools will be in dire need of funding if congress doesn't re-authorize a bill to fund rural schools that in the west used to be funded with timber receipt sales monies, he said. With the decline of timber sales, it has been necessary to get federal help to keep those rural schools going.

In 2005, Wyden authored a bill to provide stable funding for rural schools, roads, and counties. That bill expires this year and the Bush Administration has proposed to recoup that money by selling off public lands.

In March, Wyden and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) authored a bill that would continue funding rural schools by taxing government contractors.

"If we don't get this re-authorized, small town school districts across Oregon will have to go to three-day school weeks," Wyden said.

When asked about closing the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Wyden said, "It's a huge decision with great ramifications" for how the U.S. is perceived in the court of world opinion.

The U.S. needs to strike a balance there, he said, considering that there were some people who do need to be detained for questioning, such as Osama Bin Laden's personal driver.

Nevertheless, "What the administration is doing is inexcusable," he said.

Wyden was one of 23 senators who voted against authorizing the president to go to war in Iraq. He said he was never convinced by the administration's "mushroom cloud" hysteria argument, and that he probably would have listed Saddam Hussein at about sixth in terms of who was a threat to the U.S., behind such countries as Afghanistan, Iran and North Korea.

In regard to health care, Wyden says the federal government is foolish not to use its leverage to buy in bulk.

"It is ridiculous for the federal government to fritter away its ability to hold down the cost of medicine and health care," he said. "It's like going to Costco and buying one roll of toilet paper at a time."

On the immigration debate, he said one thing that everyone agrees with is, "The current system is just broken and it doesn't work for anyone."

"My sense is that when all the theatrics are over with ... we'll get down to writing a bill ... It's always important that all over the world people want to come here, and no one from here wants to go there."

Wyden thanked the audience for coming to the town hall meeting on a Sunday morning when they could be doing other things.

"This is how democracy is supposed to look," he said.

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