December 24, 2008

Wyden Leads and Succeeds in 110th Congress

Senator Makes Oregon Values Work for all Americans

Washington, DC - Keeping his focus on fixing our country's most pressing problems, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) won a series of hard-fought accomplishments in the 110th Congress. Wyden continued to work as a bipartisan leader on issues as wide-ranging as ensuring the continuation of county payments for Oregon communities to preventing military weapons components from falling into the wrong hands. Below is just some of what Senator Wyden and his staff accomplished during the 110th Congress.


Saving County Payments: As author of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act, Senator Wyden was relentless in pursuing the bill's reauthorization in the 110th Congress, creating a new coalition with Senate Majority Leader Reid, Finance Committee Chairman Baucus, and Energy Committee Chairman Bingaman and authoring new legislation to fund counties. He passed his legislation twice in the Senate, but it was blocked both times by the House of Representatives, prompting Wyden to promise Oregonians that he would attach the bill to every piece of legislation that came before the Senate until he won passage of the bill's extension. Wyden made good on his word when he added a four-year extension of the county payments program to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which was signed into law on October 4, 2008. The bill provides funding of county payments through 2012 plus five years of full funding for Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT). The extension includes over $800 million for Oregon counties, extending a lifeline that saved jobs and services for communities throughout the state. Read more.

Protecting Oregon's Air Quality: On February 9, 2007, after months of pressuring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to adopt a standard for benzene that didn't "turn the Northwest into an environmental sacrifice zone," Wyden announced that the EPA had backed down and was instituting a nationwide cap on the amount of benzene in gasoline. Historically, EPA did not regulate fuel benzene levels in the Northwest because the agency originally focused regulation only on regions of the country with poor air quality. However as even EPA's own analysis indicated, Northwesterners have had some of the nation's highest benzene health risks due to high fuel benzene levels. Thanks to the new EPA rule, benzene levels in the Northwest will be brought in line with the lower levels of other regions across the nation. Read more.

Protecting Oregon's fishing families: Working with Senator Smith, Wyden fought to bring relief to commercial fishers and businesses that were affected by the salmon fishery closure on the West Coast by having these regions declared federal disaster areas. The 2008 Farm Bill passed with $170 million in disaster assistance for the designated communities, offering them much-needed support to survive the crisis. Read more.

Supporting new technologies: With Senator Wyden's bipartisan leadership, the Senate extended the Wyden-authored Internet Tax Freedom Act which has prevented state and local governments from imposing billions in discriminatory taxes on online transactions. Under the new Internet Tax Freedom Extension Act, HR. 3678, Wyden gained specific protections for the most commonly used Internet services, including email, instant messaging and storage services. "These services have sparked revolutions in our ability to communicate, bringing distant grandparents closer to their grandchildren and giving our soldiers in the field a more direct link to home," said Wyden. "We should all be proud that the Senate worked together to ensure that these valuable services were not encumbered by a web of state, county and local taxes."

Fighting for sustainable transportation: In a September 3, 2008 letter to the Surface Transportation Board, Wyden initiated an inspection of the Coos Bay rail line on behalf of the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay. The owner of the line, Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad, abandoned the line, leaving South Coast shippers without rail service to the Willamette Valley. The STB ruled that CORP's abandonment was no justified and that it must sell the line to the Port of Coos Bay, allowing the rail line to reopen in the future. The Port has agreed to buy the line. Read more.

Fighting to resurrect the Pioneer Route: Wyden wrote to Alex Kummant, President and CEO of Amtrak, to request expedited implementation of the study of the Pioneer Route to determine whether passenger rail service can be reinstated on the line. Kummant agreed, and the study is to be completed by late 2009 or sooner. The Pioneer Route ran from Seattle, through Portland, to Eastern Oregon and points east. It was abandoned by Amtrak in 1997. Read more.

Responding to constituent needs: When Wyden learned that residents of Camas Valley had to travel at least eight miles, over a mountain, for basic postal services, he wrote to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) requesting that they reestablish a post office in Camas Valley, Oregon. In response to Wyden's April 23, 2007 letter, the USPS took interim steps to address community concerns, while announcing its intention to have a full post office up and running in Camas Valley.

Balancing community needs: Senator Wyden wrote a letter to Donald C. Winter, Secretary of the Navy, strongly urging him to resolve the hazardous problem of sand obscuring drivers' vision in Morrow County ever since a large fire burned on the Navy's Boardman Bombing Range in July 2008. The Navy responded by sending Navy personnel and supplies to the bombing range who worked with Morrow County personnel to build a sediment fence that will prevent sand from blowing onto the road area.


Keeping promises to our Veterans: At a hearing on the Pentagon's 2009 Budget request, Wyden raised concerns about the more than 39,000 veterans' claims that were pending under the Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments Combat-Related Special Compensation Programs. "Tens of thousands of brave men and women ... have waited more than a year and a half for the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to approve the benefits that they earned fighting for our country," Wyden said. "I know of one veteran in my state, who died waiting for his claim to be processed." At the hearing Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England promised Wyden that clearing up the backlog of claims would be a priority for his department and in the ensuing months the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) quadrupled the number of staff processing the applications in order to get the job done.

Bringing veterans health care to La Grande: Months of lobbying the Department of Veterans Affairs paid off in 2008 when the Department opened the long-awaited Community Based Outpatient Clinic in La Grande, Oregon. According to preliminary projections, approximately 1,570 Eastern Oregon veterans will be able to receive care at the new La Grande outpatient facility. "This outpatient clinic will be a critical resource for veterans who are trying to access medical care while working during the day as well as for aging veterans who have difficulty seeing while driving at night," said Wyden. Read more.


Fighting for health care for all Americans: With 16 Senate cosponsors, Wyden's Healthy Americans Act this year became the most significant bipartisan effort to reform the nation's health care system since before Harry Truman was president. In promoting the legislation, Senator Wyden has met with over 80 senators from all political parties to listen to their concerns and help educate them on the important choices Congress will have to make to finally fix health care. The Healthy Americans Act would provide portable, affordable health care to every American that can never be taken away and that the Congressional Budget Office concluded will actually save taxpayers money after the first two years of implementation. Read more.

Guaranteeing access to health care for rural communities: In June 2008, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed to decertify rural health clinics located in communities where the Federal Health Professional Shortage Area designation was more than 3 years old. The Federal government agency, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and most states update their shortage area designations every 4 years. This rule would have unfairly penalized more than 500 rural health clinics that would lose their Medicare certification because of an uncoordinated Federal bureaucracy. Senators Wyden and Smith along with 10 cosponsors introduced a bill on July 31, 2008 l to align HRSA and Medicare policies for rural health centers. The provision was signed into law on October 9, 2008 as part of the Health Care Safety Net Act of 2008.


Expanding Privacy Rights to Americans Abroad: During the Senate Intelligence Committee's consideration of legislation overhauling electronic surveillance law (S. 2248, the FISA Amendments Act), Senator Wyden successfully offered an amendment that requires federal intelligence agencies to get a warrant before targeting the phone calls of Americans who are located outside the country. Prior to the law's passage, the federal government was only required to get a warrant before deliberately surveilling Americans physically inside the United States. Enactment of what became known as the "Wyden Amendment" represents one of the largest expansions of privacy rights in the last thirty years. Although it was initially opposed by the Bush Administration, the President signed it into law July 10, 2008. Read More.

Challenging the Bush interrogation program: During the Senate Intelligence Committee's hearing on the nomination of John Rizzo to be General Counsel of the CIA, Senator Wyden asked the nominee if he wished he had objected to a now-withdrawn Department of Justice legal memo that laid the foundation for the CIA's coercive interrogation program. After Mr. Rizzo responded that he did not wish he had objected, Senator Wyden led the opposition to Mr. Rizzo's nomination, which was later withdrawn by President Bush before a committee vote took place. Read more.

Fighting Torture: Senator Wyden and other members of a joint House-Senate conference committee on H.R. 2082, the annual bill authorizing funds for intelligence activities, included language effectively prohibiting intelligence agencies from using coercive interrogation techniques. While the legislation passed Congress, it was ultimately vetoed by President Bush. Read more.

Protecting the Identity of U.S. Covert Agents: Also included in H.R. 2082 was a Wyden authored provision that would increase the maximum prison sentence for any individual with access to classified information who knowingly exposes an undercover agent. "This provision is intended to send a strong message," said Wyden., "to the men and women of our intelligence community that Congress takes any threat to their identities seriously."

Working to stop the sale of surplus aircraft parts to Iran. On January 28, 2008, President Bush signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008, which included a provision based on Wyden's "Stop Arming Iran Act." The provision prohibits the Pentagon from selling surplus parts and equipment for F-14 fighter aircraft. Iran is the only country—other than the United States—that flies F-14s. Read more.

Increasing CIA Transparency: In passing H.R. 4 "Legislation Implementing the Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007" Congress enacted a Wyden authored provision declassifying the total size of the national intelligence budget. In May 2007, the White House threatened to veto the 9/11 legislation if it included language making this top line number public. Wyden responded: "Public accountability should not take a back seat to this Administration's obsession with secrecy." The Wyden provision was signed into law in July 2007 as part of H.R.1 and the total size of the national intelligence budget has since been made public. Read more.

Protecting Iraqi Interpreters: On November 20, 2008, Wyden brought together 11 Members of the House of Representatives to write a letter to the Secretary of Defense objecting to a new policy that prohibited Iraqi interpreters from wearing masks to disguise their identities while working with U.S. troops. Iraqi interpreters play a critical role in U.S. operations in Iraq. They advise U.S. servicemen and women on local customs, defuse misunderstandings and warn troops when they are in harm's way. However since 2003 more than 300 interpreters working with U.S. troops have lost their lives. In response to the letter, the Department of Defense rescinded the ban on December 6, 2008. "In an ideal world, these brave Iraqis and their families would not be targets, but as long as their lives are in danger, the U.S Government owes it to them to protect their identities," said Wyden. "The Department of Defense made the right decision." Read more.

Fortifying emergency preparedness: The idea of NET Guard (the National Emergency Technology Guard) was born in the aftermath of 9-11, when a number of communications and technology companies told Wyden they wanted to help New York City when it was attacked - and there was no system for using their volunteers. Congress authorized the establishment of NET Guard in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, however the Department of Homeland Security failed to make any visible progress to implement the program until this year when Senator Wyden placed a hold on the nomination of Harvey E. Johnson to be Deputy Administration of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Wyden announced that he would hold the nomination until the DHS honored its long-held pledge to implement the NET guard program. On June 18, 2008 DHS announced that it would make $320,000 available in Fiscal Year 2008 to pilot, test, and develop tools for the National Emergency Technology Guard (NET Guard) program. Read More.


Fighting For Timber American Timber Jobs Wyden's Combat Illegal Logging bill became law as part of the 2008 Farm Bill, Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced the corresponding House legislation, which passed over the president's veto in May 2008. The provision expands the Lacey Act — which currently regulates trade in fish, wildlife, and a limited subset of plants — to prohibit the import, sale or trade in illegally-harvested wood and wood products. The issue was brought to Wyden by Oregon timber operators, who were losing jobs and market share to unfair foreign competition. By curbing illegal logging in regions including the Amazon, the Congo Basin, and Siberia, the legislation also works to preserve and protect ecosystems that are being destroyed by this devastating practice. Read more.

Managing Oregon's Water Resources: When Congress overturned a Bush Administration veto of the Water Resources Development Act (H.R. 1495), Wyden and U.S. Senator Gordon Smith won $96 million in federal funding for water projects in Oregon. The Act includes an amendment authored by the senator to provide $35 million for the Research and Development Program for Columbia and Snake River Salmon Survival. Wyden also worked with some members of the Oregon, Washington, and California Senate Congressional Delegations to remove operating restrictions from the federal west coast hopper dredges Essayons and Yaquina. The language was included in the final 2008 WRDA bill and passed into law. Read more.

Protecting National Parks: By winning passage of the Natural Resource Protection Cooperative Agreement Act, Wyden gained an extension of what has come to be known as the "Wyden authority," a provision that makes it easier for governmental authorities and private entities to work cooperatively to preserve, restore and protect wetlands and other native wildlife habitat within the National Park System (NPS). The Act also allows public and private dollars to be applied on adjacent lands to address a number of issues that affect land management across boundaries.

Standing op for Oregon's Native communities: Senators Wyden and Smith won Senate passage of legislation that authorized the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians of Oregon, the Coquille Tribe of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes of the Siletz Reservation, Oregon, to obtain 99-year lease authority for trust land. In addition, the bill authorizes the Morongo Band of Cahuilla Mission Indians of the Morongo Reservation, California, to obtain 50-year lease authority for trust land.

Preserving Native lands: Senator Wyden joined Senator Smith in sponsoring the Oregon Surplus Federal Land Act of 2008, which transfers land to the Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua & Siuslaw Indians near Gregory Point, Oregon. It became law on October 8, 2008.


Fighting to end "Secret Holds": This Congress, the Senate adopted new ethics rules authored by Wyden and U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) effectively ending the long running practice of allowing individual senators to indefinitely block legislation or nominations without revealing their identity. Wyden and Grassley have worked to end the practice of secret holds for more than a decade. Under the new Senate rules, senators are required to publically disclose their holds after six session days. Wyden has reiterated his intention to continue fight to end secret altogether. Read more.

Declassifying the CIA's 9/11 Report: After two years of pressuring the Administration to declassify the summary of the CIA Inspector General's report examining the Agency's actions in the run up to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Wyden passed a law requiring the director of the CIA to do just that. In August 2007, the CIA made public the executive summary of the 9/11 Report, which can now be read at: It was the last major government report on 9/11 to be made available to the public. Wyden said: "This report sheds real insight into one of the defining moments in our nation's history and the public has the right to read it." Read more.

Taking a stand for ethical government: On April 30, 2007, citing serious ethics transgressions by high-ranking Interior Department official Julie MacDonald, Wyden placed a hold on the confirmation of Lyle Laverty, the President's nominee for Interior Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife, and Parks. MacDonald resigned on May 1, 2007. Wyden has since fought the Department of Interior to not only address ethical transgressions at the department, but to review the Endangered Species Act (ESA) cases likely tainted by Ms. MacDonald's involvement. On December 15, 2008, the Interior Department's Inspector General released a report at Wyden's request detailing the extent to which MacDonald tampered with ESA decisions. "This report makes it crystal clear," said Wyden, "How one person's contempt for the public trust can infect an entire agency. " Read more.

Combating Identity Theft: Wyden sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urging the department to use the more secure option of certified mail - rather than regular first-class mail - when sending Legal Permanent Resident cards to recipients. In response, in July, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, announced that it "is now working toward replacing first-class mailing of security identity documents later this year with priority mail with automated delivery confirmation" that would allow tracking of documents from production through delivery. Read more.

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