What we discussed at the fall town hall meetings

More than 350 people attended my recent town hall meetings in Astoria, Clatskanie, Tualatin, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Banks, Sauvie Island, and Yamhill. Town hall meetings provide an opportunity for me to hear directly from constituents about the needs and interests of our communities. I appreciate everyone who took the time to join me in discussing issues of importance to Oregon and our nation. 

Top issues of concern included:

  • Lack of bipartisanship in Congress: the government shutdown and debt ceiling negotiations 
  • The Affordable Care Act and implementation of health care reform 
  • Trade agreements and how they could affect Oregon 
  • Potential changes to Medicaid, Social Security, and other earned benefits, and 
  • Access to affordable quality education 

Preventing another government shutdown 
It was clear from the questions and comments that the government shutdown was a major area of concern. Attendees asked how another government shutdown or near default could be prevented. I heard you loud and clear and couldn’t agree more. Both parties must end the finger pointing and start working together to rebuild our economy. Oregonians are tired of watching Congress govern by crisis and pass short-term solutions. I am committed to changing the negative rhetoric in Congress, and I’ve shown that by avoiding partisan language and partnering with colleagues across the aisle to get things done. The Budget Conference Committee has started meeting to reconcile the House and Senate budgets. We can and should avoid a repeat of the recent shutdown.

Addressing Concerns about the Affordable Care Act 
I was glad to have the opportunity to discuss the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Many attendees at the town hall meetings expressed support for the Affordable Care Act, though others had concerns about its provisions and its implementation. There have been many reports about problems with the HealthCare.Gov website, the marketplace – “exchange” - for individuals and small businesses to shop for and buy health insurance. Oregon has its own insurance exchange, so some of the issues experienced around the country do not apply to us. By visiting CoverOregon.com, Oregon’s exchange, you can browse all of the available plans and compare benefits and prices. Cover Oregon is open for business, but at the present time may not be able to enroll people online. For the time being, Cover Oregon officials are able to process forms manually rather than electronically. If you would like to sign up immediately, you can do so in person or by phone. The site will soon be able to process online applications as well.

I have also heard from some constituents who say they are now receiving word that, because of the Affordable Care Act, their existing plans will no longer be offered or that prices are going up. This may be happening because the Affordable Care Act created new rules that set up “essential health benefits” and that also make insurance company practices more fair for consumers. For instance, under the new plans insurance companies will be barred from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions, cutting off coverage when your bills get too high from a catastrophic illness, or dropping coverage altogether when you get sick and need it most. The good news is that the new plans available through Cover Oregon offer far better coverage, and many Oregonians will qualify for tax credits that make the plans more affordable. You can learn more about the plans at CoverOregon.com or by contacting my Oregon office at 503-469-6010.

Protecting Medicare and Social Security 
Other participants expressed concern about proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. These programs are primarily for seniors and the disabled, and for decades the benefits have helped keep millions out of poverty. I do not support the "chained" consumer price index (CPI) proposal that would reduce cost-of-living adjustments for seniors. There are other ways to stabilize Social Security, including raising the “cap” or income level at which people stop paying into the fund. We continue to discuss ways to reduce medical costs and crack down on fraud in Medicare.

Trade Agreements  
Many town hall attendees expressed concern about proposed trade agreements and how they might affect Oregon. Trade is very important to the economy of Oregon and the First Congressional District. We have thriving ports, internationally successful companies, and an agricultural sector that exports large quantities of products. I have been in contact with the U.S. Trade Representative to discuss how trade agreements are negotiated, and I am currently reviewing sections of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with the goal of determining how it might affect Oregon. Any trade agreement must include strong and enforceable protections related to labor, human rights, environment, consumer protection, and intellectual property, and I will continue working to ensure that such provisions are included in any trade agreement.

Strengthening Oregon’s Schools and Making College More Affordable  
Access to quality education was another common theme at my town hall meetings. I’ve heard troubling reports of budget cuts, increasing classroom sizes, teaching to the test, and reduced access to subjects like civics, art, and career and technical education. As a member of Congress concerned about how federal policy drives decisions in education, I am planning visits in every school district in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District to help me understand how policy set in Washington, DC affects what goes on in our classrooms. I’m also very concerned about the rising costs of higher education in this country. One bill I’ve introduced will provide need-based grants to low-income students to give them opportunities to benefit from internships. Additionally I will continue to advocate for programs and policies that reduce student loan debt and ensure higher education in this country is affordable and available to all.

Thank you to all of those who attended this most recent round of town hall meetings. You can learn about any upcoming events by visiting my Facebook Page, following me on Twitter or by checking my website at http://bonamici.house.gov. If you have questions, or if you need assistance with a federal agency, please call my district office at 503-469-6010