Wyden Talks Jobs, Health Care & Immigration

Wyden in Hermiston
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden answers questions during a visit to the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden spent a good portion of his day on Tuesday in Hermiston, including a stop at the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce where he touched on a number of issues including taxes, health care, and immigration.

Wyden, who is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said it is troubling to see the stock market go up and productivity rise, but the take-home pay for middle class Americans remain flat.

“More and more people are unable to afford the essentials – a house, a car, health insurance,” he said. “The challenge facing us is to create more high-paying jobs for the middle class.”

Those jobs, said Wyden, will be high-tech jobs and those related to the health care field.

“Health care jobs often pay high wages and they can’t be outsourced,” he said.

Speaking of health care, in particular Medicare, Wyden said 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day – enough people to create a town larger than Hermiston every two days. Wyden said the strain on the Medicare system is far greater now than when it was introduced in 1965.

Back then, he said, Medicare was about providing care for minor issues such as broken legs.

“Today, it’s about diabetes, cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “That’s the whole program – it’s about managing chronic diseases.” Earlier this year, Wyden co-sponsored the Better Care, Lower Cost Act of 2014 that would encourage health systems to provide fully-integrated medical care for people with chronic disease. According to one study, two-thirds of all Medicare patients have at least two chronic conditions.

Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann asked what the Senate is doing about the 11 million undocumented workers in the country and to ensure that farmers have enough laborers. Wyden said the Senate passed a bill that is essentially similar to a plan worked out a decade ago by President George W. Bush, a conservative, and Ted Kennedy, whom Wyden called the “lion of liberalism.”

The bill calls for three things:

First, secure the borders. Second, insist that the current laws regarding immigration are enforced, and finally, allow those already here illegally to go to the back of the line for citizenship so long as they pay a fine, master the English language and have clean criminal record.

“That’s a workable solution,” he said. “What’s the alternative? Knock on every door to find the illegal immigrants and send them back? That’s not plausible.”

The bill, however, has been held up in the House of Representatives. Wyden said that Congress will have to do something it has shown a reluctance to do in recent years – work in a bipartisan manner.

“When the dust settles on the 2014 elections, one party or the other will have 51 or 52 votes in the Senate,” he said. “Neither side in the Senate will have the 60 votes needed to have it all their way. To get anything done, you’re going to have to work with the other side.”

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