Walden talks of fire as rain pours down

<p>U.S. Rep. Greg Walden and wife Mylene (couple at left) stroll along the vendors row at Saturday's Third Annual Bowly Bash.</p>

ENTERPRISE – Oregon’s largest wildfire of modern times was still well short of containment when U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) stood to brief a roomful of constituents Friday night at Lear’s Main Street Pub & Grill.

By the time Walden concluded his remarks on the grim fire situation and a number of other matters, however, it’s arguable that our immediate fire-related anxieties were getting washed away. While Walden fielded constituents’ questions at Lear’s, heavy rainfall pounded the roof and the streets outside, a phenomenon that drew everyone’s attention. The storm was part of a system that was helping firefighters turn the tide against the Long Draw Fire, a 900-square-mile behemoth a few hundred miles away.

“This is really a tragic situation,” Walden said of the losses the massive fire was causing.

The tragedy easily brought to mind some widely shared criticisms of federal public lands management, furnishing Walden a natural segue to discussion of HR 4019, U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings’ (R-Wash.) bill to spur more timber cutting in national forests, producing revenue to fund future federal payments to counties.

Walden said the largest obstacle the bill’s proponents currently face is the Congressional Budget Office, which wasn’t acknowledging the possibility of the nation’s forests actually earning money. “They just can’t seem to get their little green eye shades around that,” Walden said.

From the subject of HR 4019, Walden moved to a brief observation about the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest’s unpopular approaches to producing a new Travel Management Plan. He flatly rejected use of this year’s withdrawn TMP decision as a template for whatever the WWNF approves next. “They need to pull back that plan totally and throw it in the trash can and start over,” Walden declared.

He devoted another portion of the night’s talk to criticizing Obamacare, which, he warned, contained a critical flaw, creating too much incentive for businesses, especially small ones, to quit offering their employees health insurance. These employers would discover that, despite a monetary penalty their company’s would bear, it would be much cheaper to “dump” their employees into the insurance exchanges that Obamacare is creating. Walden said such dumping actually pencils out favorably for 71 of the Fortune 100 firms.

He worries that when Obamacare’s Democratic backers in Congress see too much dumping going on, they’ll try to raise the penalty amount.

As to the November general election’s outcome, Walden answered cautiously a constituent’s request for some predictions. “I would suggest that we’ll maintain the majority in the House,” Walden said, adding his thought that Republicans’ overall gain or loss in the chamber wouldn’t exceed five seats.

He was even more reserved in his stated expectations for Republicans’ Senate races, alluding to party leaders’ difficulties in recruiting the strongest people available in all races. “They had some opportunities. They just didn’t get the right candidates,” Walden said.

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