ONTARIO - An Oregon congressman stopped in Ontario on Tuesday, first touring the city to see the damage caused by a destructive and relentless winter that took a huge toll on the onion industry in Eastern Oregon.
Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Hood River, then held a town hall meeting where his constituents came to find out about what's going on in Washington, D.C.
KTVB crews expected some protests outside the Four Rivers Cultural Center on Tuesday because Walden has faced some backlash in recent weeks due to his town hall schedule; some constituents saying he's ignoring certain cities and visiting others.
While there were no protests, there certainly were diverse, heavy questions thrown the congressman's way, as he is now head of the oldest standing legislative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives that has the broadest jurisdiction of any congressional authorizing committee (not related to taxes).
Close to 100 people packed the room to learn more on everything from Walden's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to his take on immigration reform.
Now chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee - which has responsibility for America's telecommunications, food and drug safety, public health research, environmental quality, energy policy, commerce and consumer protection, Rep. Walden has several tasks to tackle. One in particular that Republicans have been promising Americans for years: the repeal and replacement of ACA.
"I think you can do it in a way that protects the most vulnerable. Certainly that's without question, we are not going to pull the rug out from those folks: if you're aged, blind and disabled you're covered. If you were a low-income single adult there's a way that we can subsidize you through the tax code to be able to go buy insurance, and frankly it'll probably be better for you long run," Rep. Walden told KTVB. "We are going to take this a piece at a time and we are going to move through and get each one of these right."
Walden says he doesn't plan on repealing every aspect of the ACA, but believes government can do better in providing sustainable, affordable health care that gives people more choices.
"If you have a pre-existing condition, we're not going to allow discrimination. We are not going to go back to the days of lifetime caps and we're going to make sure kids can stay on their parents' insurance," Walden said.
Dana Stone lives in Baker City and came to Walden's town hall to voice her fears about the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
"I represent a lot of families who are really, really concerned about the impact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would have," Stone told KTVB. "I think we all would agree that there's parts of it that aren't working well, certainly. This particular part of it- the Community First Choice Option, otherwise known as a K-Plan- has been phenomenal for our family."
Stone encourages others to join her in attending town halls and reaching out to congressional leaders.
"The importance of coming out to these kind of events, the importance that their voice really does count and it really does matter. You know, we elect a president every four years, but every single day families have access to their representatives," Stone added.
The Congressman answered a wide range of questions: from topics such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to tax reform, and whether there was any way he could help with the destructive aftermath this winter has caused.
We went with him as he toured Ontario- witnessing first-hand the devastation to the onion industry.
"This is the worst disaster like this I've ever seen," Walden said. "Hopefully the state can help out and hopefully the feds can as well because this has been a huge hit."
Other attendees at the town hall asked questions about immigration reform.
One woman saying: "If everybody goes back to Mexico we're not going to have any laborers."
Walden says we are a country of immigrants and we embrace that fact.
"But we should be a country of legal immigrants and that's the system that we need to work on and fix," Walden added. "But I also represent a very agricultural-related district. They need guest workers to harvest the crops and do the labor that gets done."
KTVB reached out to Idaho congressmen about whether they're holding town halls during the district work period, also called congressional recess. Rep. Labrador and Sen. Crapo's offices say they don't have any town halls planned this week.
As of Tuesday night, we had not heard back from Rep. Simpson or Sen. Risch about possible meetings.
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