Bonamici strikes bipartisan tone at town hall
Don Watson, a retired McMinnville math teacher, told U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici at a town hall Monday he is concerned about gridlock in Congress.
“What can we do to increase bipartisanship, even with an administration that’s wacko?” he asked, drawing a chuckle from the 100 or so people gathered to speak with Bonamici at Chemeketa Community College’s McMinnville campus.
“There is a lot more bipartisanship than you hear about,” replied Bonamici, who represents McMinnville in the First Congressional District. “It really doesn’t get the headlines because there’s so much going on right now. There’s all this conflict and breaking news.”
Nonetheless, she said, there is much bipartisan work going on. She is working with U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, a Georgia Republican, on an apprenticeship bill.
Republican U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama is working with Bonamic on a bill to reform work-study opportunities for students, while she and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, another Republican, try to incorporate more art and design into science, technology, engineering and math curriculum
A bipartisan group of 88 representatives work on the climate solutions caucus and examine issues such as rising sea levels.
“Everyone is there for the same reason,” said Bonamici. “They want the same things. They want a strong economy. They want good jobs for everyone. They want a secure nation. They want good schools. They want clean air and clean water. They just have very different ideas about how to accomplish those things and different ideas about the role of government.”
Bonamici said she is particularly interested in working across the aisle. After all, she pointed out, “Bonamici” means “good friends” in Italian. “I just make friends with everyone,” she said.
Still, she added, she gets frustrated. She and her colleagues continue waiting for a bill to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. Democrats can’t do much to push a bill forward. “It’s really up to the speaker what comes up for a vote,” said Bonamici.
She discussed an alternative with her constituents. House members can use a discharge petition to bring a bill from committee to the floor for consideration. However, a discharge petition requires the signature of a majority of the members — a total of 218 votes.
“Some people in the majority are going to have to go against their leaders,” Bonamici said.
Although there is wide bipartisan support for a bill to protect the immigrants known as Dreamers, she said House leadership appears unyielding on the subject.
“I can’t answer as to why Speaker [Paul] Ryan won’t put it up for a vote,” said Bonamici. “There are versions that are bipartisan. We’ve had, trying to be diplomatic here, inconsistent messages from the administration about what the president will sign.”
Nonetheless, she said protecting the Dreamers is important. “Dreamers are teachers and researchers and serving in the military,” she said. “We have to find a way to do this.”
Another group requiring protection is retired federal employees, said Zane Suverly, who is one himself.
“As we work through the budget process, so often people like the federal employees, retirees and Social Security beneficiaries and so forth are the long-hanging fruit on the tree,” Suverly told Bonamici.
“If they need to cut some corners to lower the budget or pay for something else, these people, including us, often get hung up on this unless we really put our voice out there,” he said.
Bonamici promised her support.
“I’m very concerned about the attacks on federal workers,” she said. “I’m very concerned that people don’t appreciate the value of the work that you’ve done, so I will continue to be a voice for you.”
Casey Kulla, who is running for Yamhill County commissioner, asked Bonamici to discuss her plans to improve the nation’s infrastructure.
“We in the United States have been far behind other developed countries in terms of what we invest in infrastructure,” she replied, adding she sees infrastructure as more than roads and bridges.
“I support a broader definition of infrastructure because we know that we have needs for things like water systems and levies and public buildings,” Bonamici said. “That’s all infrastructure we should be maintaining, and those are good investments.”
Federal funding for infrastructure typically comes from federal gas taxes that haven’t been raised since the early ‘90s.
“Raising the federal gas tax has broad bipartisan support everywhere across the country except in Congress,” Bonamici said.
There are some members who steadfastly refuse to hike any taxes for any reason, she added, describing that as short-sighted. So is the president’s insistence on building infrastructure through private-public partnerships, she said.
“Those don’t really work in many instances, and the balance he has in that bill puts way too much responsibility going to state and local governments,” said Bonamici.
Gregory Petrolati was less concerned about bipartisan solutions than hearing what Bonamici was doing to promote the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. The party is too often dominated by “corporatists,” said Petrolati.
“The stuff that they’re coming up with is not that much different than what the Republicans are coming up with,” he said.
Bonamici insisted she tries to avoid divisive partisanship. “This is a time for me to talk about what I am doing in Congress,” she said.
She then described how her parents were Italian immigrants who dreamed of better lives for their children and grandchildren.
“That’s what the American dream is about,” she said. “They knew their kids were going to be better off than them. My dad’s generation knew their kids were going to be better off. Too many people are worried their kids are not going to be better off from them. They’re not going to access to health care or a good job.”
She wants to help those people, she said. “So those are the issues I’m trying to figure out,” she added. “How can we create a better future?”