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Rep. Greg Walden’s Oregon Congressional Connection

 

March 13, 2012

I’ll be on the road in eastern Oregon this week, which will include a Gilliam County town hall meeting in Arlington on Thursday (9 a.m. at the Parish Hall). Just like every year, the St. Patrick’s Day festivities in Heppner are on my calendar—usually the only thing that gets in the way is a curveball from Mother Nature! I’m honored to serve as the Grand Marshal of the parade this year; I look forward to the good fun that’s in store on Saturday.

We had some very good news come out of Prineville last week, where there has been a concerted effort to make Crook County the home to the most advanced data centers in the country.

You’ll probably recall that Facebook recently built a data center in Prineville and announced plans to expand the facility. Apple will follow suit. More technology companies are interested. One of the biggest obstacles is ensuring that the region will have enough energy available to support the job-creating data centers.

Well, last week we found out that Bonneville Power Administration and Pacific Power agreed to expedite the timeframe for upgrades and service to the Prineville area. The announcement moves up the completion date from June 2013 to January 2013. The faster timeline will help Facebook in its expansion plans and assure prospective technology companies considering Prineville as a location for data centers that sufficient energy will be available for them.

It shows technology companies interested in building data centers in the region that central Oregon is open for business. When I organized a meeting with BPA, Pacific Power, and local elected officials last fall, everyone agreed to work together and seek opportunities to accelerate the timeline for the Ponderosa substation upgrade.

Aside from energy, water is another important element to landing these good projects. My Central Oregon Jobs and Water Security Act (H.R. 2060), would ensure that the region has sufficient water for new projects, along with advancing conservation measures for steelhead. Click here for more information on that measure.

Farm office hours in Grant County

On February 27, the USDA announced its plans to approve, at the end of May, the closure of the Farm Service Agency office in John Day as part of a nationwide effort to rein in agency spending, reduce operating costs, and improve efficiencies.

Knowing the impact this would have on Grant County’s farmers and ranchers should the USDA go through with this plan, I wrote USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack this week requesting that he make sure FSA provides regular staff office hours in an existing public office space in John Day. In my letter, I emphasized that completely eliminating service without a reasonable alternative would require many to make a round trip of up to 150 miles or more to reach the nearest county FSA office.

It is my understanding that while the USDA has plans to approve closure, they do not have a plan to continue providing reasonably accessible FSA service in Grant County once a closure decision is made. I can’t imagine that it would be difficult for FSA to utilize one of the many federal agency office spaces in John Day to have technical staff present on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to make sure necessary FSA services are covered.

Ranchers and farmers in Grant County are already burdened with enough federal regulation and red tape. I hope the Secretary heeds my reasonable request and establishes a meaningful alternative for producers to access FSA services.

The JOBS Act gets bipartisan support

Late last week the House passed by overwhelming margin the “Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS Act).” The JOBS Act, comprised of six bills, is designed to help startups and entrepreneurs get off the ground, access capital and create jobs. They have all received strong bipartisan support in Congress, the President’s Jobs Council, and the business community.

The following bills are part of the JOBS Act:

  • H.R. 3606, the Reopening American Capital Markets to Emerging Growth Companies Act of 2011, makes it easier for more small and medium size companies to access the capital markets by reducing the cost of going public.
  • H.R. 2940 removes the regulatory ban that prevents small, privately held companies from using advertisements to solicit accredited investors across the country.
  • H.R. 2930 removes SEC restrictions that prevent “crowdfunding” so entrepreneurs can raise equity capital from a large pool of small investors who may or may not be considered “accredited” by the SEC.
  • H.R. 1070, the “Small Company Capital Formation Act,” makes it easier for small businesses to go public by increasing the offering threshold for companies exempted from SEC registration from $5 million to $50 million.
  • H.R. 2167, the “Private Company Flexibility and Growth Act,” removes an impediment to capital formation for small companies by raising the shareholder threshold for mandatory registration with the SEC from 500 to 1,000 shareholders.
  • H.R. 4088, the “Capital Expansion Act,” is a modified version of legislation previously approved by theHouse. It raises the threshold for mandatory registration under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 from 500 shareholders to 2,000 shareholders for all banks and bank holding companies and raises the shareholder deregistration threshold from 300 shareholders to 1,200 shareholders.

Bipartisan action on repealing the most controversial of the health care law’s panels

Last week, I joined my colleagues in the Energy and Commerce Committee in passing the Medicare Decisions Accountability Act (H.R. 452), which would repeal a provision of the new health law that creates a 15-member board of unelected bureaucrats charged with reducing Medicare payments, called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB). The board is to be housed within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, pay each member an annual salary of $165,300, and make its decisions nearly free of any Congressional oversight.

While the IPAB is only one of the new health law’s159 newly created boards, commissions and programs, it is among the least popular and most controversial. Hundreds of patient and provider groups, as well as a bipartisan majority of lawmakers, have voiced their strong opposition to its broad authority to put the government in between patients and their local providers.

The new health law even provided a $15 million slush fund in 2012, the year before the board will begin its work, for IPAB-related efforts alone. I am not aware of an entity, other than a federal government agency of course, that can attempt to justify hiring and interviewing costs as high as $1 million per employee.

This is particularly frustrating as a representative of Oregon, where physicians are known for providing high quality care at lower costs to the federal government. Rather than reforming the Medicare system in a meaningful way to reward quality over volume, IPAB simply extends the status quo of reducing Medicare payments as a way to reduce spending. In Oregon, the blunt reimbursement cuts produced by the board will have a deleterious effect on patient access, particularly in the very rural Second Congressional District.

Following up on the car commercial flap in Deschutes County

Several weeks ago I told you about the missed economic opportunity to film a major car commercial in Deschutes County. The mid-week economic impact, while modest, would have sent the signal that central Oregon is open to this kind of outside-the-box thinking.

I sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell to let him know of my disappointment—and to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. It was a focal point of my speech to the annual luncheon of Economic Development for Central Oregon during my visit to Bend on Friday.

The brightest days for central Oregon’s economy remain in the future, not the past. But to get there, we can’t afford for the bureaucracies that manage such a dominant swath of our land base to turn away gift-wrapped economic opportunities. Our natural wonders should be a boon that attracts outside investment, not an excuse to keep it away

Click here for the full story on the car commercial flap and to read my letter to Chief Tidwell.

That’s all for now. Have a great week rest of your week.

Best regards,
Greg Walden
U.S. Representative
Oregon’s Second District

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