Sen. Ron Wyden’s Town Hall

When : Saturday

Time: 10:30 a.m.

Where: Central Oregon Community College’s Coats Center Dining Room

Address: 2600 NW College Way, Bend.

Parking: Wyden’s office suggests parking on College Way, across the street or near the bookstore or library.

Prescription drug prices for sure. Probably wildfires and guns. Trade with China. Immigration comes up a lot.

The questions U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, expects to get Saturday during his town hall in Bend cover a wide range from international trade to local forest fire prevention projects. But Wyden says he doesn’t set the agenda, so he’s never sure what is going to come up.

“There will probably be some supporters of President Trump who want to know why I’m not backing him up as much as they think I should,” the senator said.

Making a quick stop at a Black Rock Coffee Bar on River Road in Eugene on Friday to let his staff refuel before getting back on the road, Wyden said each town hall is different. He’s done 949 of them across the state since he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996.

Some things stay the same at his town halls — urban and rural, packed or sparsely attended — going back to the beginning.

“For the 949th time, I’ll say that what our Founding Fathers had in mind is a government that belongs to the people, not special interests,” he said.

Or politicians, even the dean of Oregon’s congressional delegation.

“I don’t give a speech,” Wyden said. “Anybody can come and speak; no subject is off-limits. I want to know what is on people’s minds.”

Wyden’s town hall will start at 10:30 a.m. at Central Oregon Community College. He hopes people will bring their beliefs, beefs, ideas, hopes and fears.

At recent town halls in Newport and Corvallis, Wyden said one topic of intense interest is medical costs, particularly prescription drug prices.

“We have a broken delivery system,” Wyden said. “The pain is so substantial.”

Wyden joined with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to introduce the Prescription Drug Pricing Reduction Act of 2019.

A rare bipartisan letter was released last month by Grassley and Wyden.

“A working-class family shouldn’t have to pick between making their rent or mortgage payment and being able to afford their kids’ medication,” the letter said. “A single mother with diabetes shouldn’t have to pick between groceries and insulin. A senior citizen who’s paid into the system their entire life shouldn’t have to cut pills in half to be able to make it to the next refill. The time to act on prescription drug prices is now.”

Wyden said Americans are exhausted with the spiral of drug prices that he says are often manipulated by pharmaceutical manufacturers and by “middlemen” such as pharmacy benefit managers.

A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that taxpayers could save more than $100 billion under the prescription drug reform bill.

As the ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Grassley and Wyden were able to get the committee to approve the bill on a bipartisan vote. But the bill’s future is up to one man: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He has bottled up similar legislation in the past.

“Leader McConnell decides what gets brought up on the floor, and Leader McConnell decides what does not get brought up on the floor,” Wyden said.

Despite the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Wyden said the debate over gun control is always sharp at town halls away from the metropolitan areas of Oregon.

Wyden had hoped this time would be different since President Trump initially signaled his desire to tighten gun laws. He has since pulled back amid pressure from the influential National Rifle Association and anti-gun control Republican lawmakers in Washington.

Wyden backs a House bill that would require universal background checks on gun purchases. He supports safe firearm storage laws and wants the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate the impact of firearms on public health.

“Oregonians are tired of meaningless words,” Wyden said. “The point is not to take guns away from everyone. It is to take guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”

Wyden said one of the greatest dangers to the U.S. economy and jobs of Oregon workers is the “incoherent” trade policy of President Trump towards China.

“I fully support President Trump going after China’s cheating on trade,” Wyden said. “But Trump’s posturing is hitting American pocketbooks without changing China’s behavior.”

Wyden said that Oregon’s agriculture and other businesses are telling him they need security and predictability on trade policy, but all they get is chaos.

“China is Oregon’s biggest trading partner,” Wyden said. “You can’t do what Trump just did and tell American businesses they should go find somewhere else to sell their products.”

The answer on trade, Wyden believes, is to pull back and regroup. Work with allies around the world to come up with a unified approach that will make a lasting change on Chinese policy. He worries that the turbulent trade rules, combined with a $1.5 billion deficit from the tax cuts early in Trump’s term, plus a jittery stock market, could lead to a financial downturn.

“I don’t root against the United States, and I don’t root against Oregon,” Wyden said. “But we need to stabilize foreign trade and get back some of the billions in tax breaks that were given to the highest earners in the country,” Wyden said.

Wyden says he knows some of the most heated give-and-take Saturday could be over Trump himself. Since his last town hall in Deschutes County, Wyden has come out in favor of impeaching Trump.

“Trump’s many actions following from his twisted thinking that he enjoys unchecked power add up to a damning indictment,” Wyden said.

Heading out the door of the Eugene coffee bar for the trip over the Cascades to Bend, Wyden said he’ll wait and see if a debate on Trump comes front and center at the town hall.

“That’s something we can all talk about on Saturday,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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