By Tara Bannow

The Bulletin

Residents of Oregon’s second congressional district, including a Bend city councilor, aired their concerns to U.S. Rep. Greg Walden about health care, public lands and immigration in a telephone town hall meeting Monday.

More than 4,000 people in Southern, Central and Eastern Oregon — location was a requirement for participating — listened in on the call with Walden, a Republican calling for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Walden has proposed legislation that would maintain the Affordable Care Act’s coverage guarantee for people with pre-existing conditions. His measure, however, does not include mention of whether insurers could charge more for that coverage. He also said Monday he supports the existing law’s ban on lifetime coverage limits and the provision that lets kids stay on their parents’ policies until they’re 26.

Of the 10 people whose questions he fielded, half asked about health care.

A caller from the small town of Talent asked how Walden planned to reduce the cost of health care for individuals. Walden responded that he wants to repeal the mandate that requires people have insurance or pay a penalty. He said the mandate drove up the cost of insurance for young, healthy people, many of whom decided to pay the penalty instead. That left a disproportionate amount of sick people on insurance markets, driving up costs.

“If we do nothing, these rates will continue to go up dramatically and be unsustainable,” Walden said.

Another caller was skeptical on that point. She told Walden insurance companies have promised to pull out of markets if the mandate is repealed because there wouldn’t be young, healthy enrollees to drive costs down. She asked whether Congress will have a comprehensive replacement plan in place by the time the law is repealed.

“Because we don’t see it,” she said. “We don’t hear about it. All we hear about is repeal.”

Bend City Councilor Barb Campbell reminded Walden on the call that his constituents in Bend, the largest city in his district, have been trying for weeks to schedule an in-person town hall meeting.

“They do not believe that you being on the phone and taking a handful of calls is the same thing as coming to town and actually seeing your constituents,” she said.

Walden responded he hosts such meetings annually in each of his district’s counties.

Campbell then asked Walden whether he supports spending billions of taxpayer dollars to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He responded that he supports building a wall where it makes sense.

“I’m not an open-borders guy,” Walden said. “I believe strongly that America is a country of laws and those laws should be enforced or changed and not just waived and that it’s important to make sure we have a good immigration system that works.”

Another caller asked Walden why he has not joined the opposition to Trump’s executive order on immigration that bans entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries. He cited a September 2016 report from the libertarian Cato Institute that found Americans have a 1 in 3.64 billion chance of being killed in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee each year.

Walden responded he worries people coming into the U.S. are not properly vetted. He said he doesn’t agree people with green cards should have been affected and felt it should have been carried out better.

“There are bad actors out there trying to infiltrate into countries via refugee programs and processes,” he said. “I think a temporary pause is not a bad thing if it’s handled properly.”

In response to a question about whether he supports policies that would permit the sale of public lands to the states, Walden said he would in specific cases. He gave the example of federal legislation that transferred federal property located in northeast Bend — now Bend Pine Nursery Park — to the Bend Park & Recreation District, allowing it to be converted to a recreation area with softball fields, trails and a picnic area, among other amenities.

A Prineville resident asked about President Donald Trump’s discussion of rolling back environmental policies such as the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

“Are we going to look like the skyline of China when we’re finished here, where you can’t even see 20 feet?” he said. “We live in a beautiful state that has clean rivers, beautiful forests and clean air, for the most part. It scares me to think that something like this is going to happen.”

Walden said Trump’s executive orders don’t supersede federal law and, if they do, will wind up in the courts, as some already are. He emphasized the need for agencies to work cooperatively with local communities to respond to environmental concerns.

Some people said they were not able to participate in the call despite having registered online. Seven people gathered at the Downtown Bend Public Library to listen to the call Monday. Although all seven signed up, only three received calls from Walden’s office inviting them to participate. One of them was 62-year-old Sharon Rykels, of Bend, who said she thought Walden held his party line well.

“There were a couple of times where he answered the question he wished they had asked as opposed to the question that was asked,” she said.

Rykels repeated Campbell’s call for Walden to come to Bend and meet with people in person.

— Reporter: 541-383-0304,

tbannow@bendbulletin.com

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