COOS BAY — Congressman Peter DeFazio held a town hall at Marshfield High School’s Auditorium on Monday to answer questions and, at times, alleviate constituent concerns.
The meeting was the second of three events held by Oregon’s 4th District Congressional representative on the day.
Topics of discussion ranged from healthcare, the Trump Administration’s effect on national politics, eminent domain and Russia’s influence on the November 2016 election.
The ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Coast Guard, highways and transit, water resources, railroads, aviation and economic development, also shared his plans to secure funding to improve the country’s ailing infrastructure.
DeFazio said he was introducing a three-part package that included keeping all money in the Harbor Maintenance Fund in place.
“Unfortunately, Congress has seen fit over the year to annually not send half the money on harbors and put it somewhere else in budget totals,” he said, estimating that roughly $9 billion had been diverted over the years, with another $1 billion diverted in the most recent fiscal year.
On April 5, DeFazio introduced with Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA), H.R. 1908, or the Investing in America: Unlocking the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund Act, which would increase investments in critical harbor and port projects and guarantee that money intended to dredge the nation’s coastal and inland commercial ports would go toward harbor maintenance.
The two other parts of the package involve a tax on airline tickets of roughly $1 or $2 that would go toward improvements across the industry and the consideration of raising the national gas tax to repair ailing bridges and roads.
“Surface transportation: roads, bridges and highways have deteriorated to the point where we can’t resurface it anymore; we have to dig it up,” he said. “There’s 140,000 bridges in the national highway system and a lot need significant repair. There’s also an $85 billion backlog in infrastructure repair; that’s going to be expensive.”
Congress has not raised the gas tax since 1993, which is why DeFazio wants to ensure that the tax could not be raised more than 1.5 cents per gallon a year.
When questioned by North Bend resident Larry Mangan about the use of eminent domain by foreign companies to complete building projects — referencing the Jordan Cove Energy Project — DeFazio stated his opposition to the practice.
“The legislation we are living under is the Bush-Cheney energy bill which gave authority to The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — nameless faceless bureaucrats,” he said, explaining that he had lobbied vigorously against the bill at the time. “I don’t like the idea of eminent domain but it is the law and it certainly is not going anywhere with this congress and this administration.”
When questioned about Congress’ investigation into the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia, DeFazio was adamant that partisanship did not belong in the process.
“I have little hope for that investigation with Mr. [Devin] Nunes in charge, who had to recuse himself due to clear bias,” he said. “National security and intelligence issues should not be partisan.”
DeFazio then fielded questions on adjusted Federal Emergency Management Agency flood maps, which he noted “had all sorts of problems,” and the recent failing of The American Health Care Act.
“Of course it would save money because when you take healthcare away from 24 million people, you have money, at least on the budget, but then emergency room costs go up and rural hospitals go broke,” he said.
DeFazio also assured audience members that even though government funding is set to run out next Friday, Democrats would not compromise on key issues to avoid another shutdown.
“We got a one week extension while they try to figure something out but there’s a number of issues that the president wants in there that Democrats are telling them no: ‘no, we’re not defunding planned parenthood and no, we’re not going to support your stupid wall.’”
The crowd responded to DeFazio’s remarks on the proposed wall with a roar of applause.
He will host town halls tomorrow at Gold Beach, Cave Junction and Grants Pass.