DeFazio speaks out at Young Democrats regional conference
|U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore|
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., had a lot to say during and after his keynote speech at the western regional conference of the Young Democrats of America, which met Saturday at Jefferson High School in Portland. The event drew about 100 from seven western states and Guam, and Oregon became the 48th state chapter.
DeFazio’s main point to the young Democrats was that for all its faults, the Democratic Party has delivered more on the issues that affect people — including individuals who aren’t anchored to a party — than Republicans.
“What’s important to young people? They’d like to get an education, and not graduate with a pile of debt they cannot afford. When they do graduate with debt, they want to have a decent job. Which party is offering a vision to help them with those problems? Republicans want to increase the costs of student financial aid, cut it back, and privatize education. That’s not going to help students get a less expensive education. In terms of jobs and opportunity, the Republican answer is: If we cut student financial aid and give that money to rich people and big corporations, they will spend it in a way that will put you to work someday — maybe. Anybody who believes that deserves to be represented by them. Trickle-down hasn’t worked, doesn’t work, won’t work.”
“You have to go to where people live and communicate those concerns as directly and completely as possible. I will admit that my party has not done a great job of that. I spend a lot of time on it and give the message a little differently than they did. We have a lot of room for improvement there. But we are the party that offers more opportunity to young people. If young people stay home, that’s exactly what the rich and powerful special interests funding Republicans want, because they’re going to screw them. If young people do that, they’re buying into that game — and ultimately supporting it.”
DeFazio is the top Democrat and former chairman of the subcommittee on highways and transit. The six-year program of federal transportation aid to states expired in 2009, and Congress has yet to renew that aid.
“Unfortunately, the Republican budget committee chairman has proposed we reduce federal investment in an already crumbling transportation system by 35 percent. That means we are walking away from a couple of million jobs, the problem of 150,000 bridges that need replacement ot repair, the 40 percent of the federal highway system that needs substantial work, improvements that would mitigate congestion. We’re walking away from a $70 billion backlog on transit investment that would mean millions of jobs — because all that stuff has to be made in America. So they are offering a very shortsighted view of the world. I am going to counter with a proposal to increase investment, because that’s what we have to do. All of our competitor nations are dramatically increasing their investment in moving their people and goods, because they know that makes them more efficient, the world economy more competitive, and it puts their people to work. We cannot be the only ones not doing that — unless we want to become third world in our infrastructure.”
DeFazio said his staff will offer an alternative soon after Republicans offer their proposal. (The budget, which the Republican majority passed without Democratic support, sets targets but lacks details.)
“If you’re talking about a true high-speed rail system, you are talking about an unimaginable amount of money,” he said. “Imagine Congress voting for $700 billion for something — oh, wait, we did — the Wall Street bailout. But personally, I would go short of that — I would build out some of these proposed corridors in areas with denser population. I think we need to make targeted investments, partnering with states and regions that have viable proposals that serve dense populations.”
DeFazio helped secure a designation of Eugene to Vancouver, British Columbia, as one of the nation’s high-priority rail corridors back in 1994. Oregon itself has not received much federal money “because we don’t have a plan.” California has a plan and voters passed a $9.95 billion bond issue in 2008.
In his 13th term from Oregon’s 4th District in the U.S. House, DeFazio has served longer in that chamber than any other Oregonian. (Republican Mark Hatfield was a U.S. senator from Oregon for 30 years.) Before then, he was a Lane County commissioner, and worked for his predecessor in the House, Democrat Jim Weaver.
The nation is already up to its borrowing limit, but Congress has until Aug. 2 to raise the ceiling — or the nation is in peril of defaulting on its payments.
DeFazio referred to a House hearing last week at which majority Republicans invited four top business executives.
“They did not get what they wanted, because when they asked those executives what would happen with a default, the response was that it would be absolutely disastrous for our economy and our country,” he said. “The Republicans did not like that, but it was the truth. The United States threatening to default on its lawful obligations would shake the world and drive up interest rates dramatically, which would hurt consumers and businesses alike.”
— Peter Wong