U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, wasn’t pulling any punches as he talked with The News-Review Monday about COVID-19, transportation and climate change.
Sitting at a picnic table at Stewart Park, DeFazio said federal help is coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard. The American Rescue Plan relief package has spent billions of dollars in Oregon, too. But ultimately, there’s only so much the federal government can do.
People have to be willing to help themselves, he said.
“I don’t know what we can do to help with idiots who won’t mask up and take the vaccine,” he said. “The consequences are pretty grim.”
He cited the example of a patient who died waiting for an ICU bed at CHI Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg. Mercy has been filled to near capacity due to the skyrocketing number of COVID-19 cases.
“We also need refrigerated trucks to put the bodies in because the undertakers can’t deal with the crush. I mean for people who think this is fake news, wake up,” he said.
He also said irresponsible local officials here and in other parts of the state have discouraged people from taking proper steps.
“People need to become responsible, and they need to realize that it isn’t just themselves and their so-called ‘personal freedoms’ to not mask up or get vaccinated, but the fact that you are spreading a disease that can kill other members of your family and other members of the community,” he said.
DeFazio said he’s headed back to Washington on Sept. 12 to work on transportation for the reconciliation bill.
DeFazio’s original transportation plan wasn’t what ultimately passed the Senate, and he’s not too happy about that. He’s hoping for better success with reconciliation, which requires just 50 Senate votes rather than a supermajority.
“I wrote a plan that was going to modernize the system for the challenges of the 21st century — sea level rise, severe weather events here in the West, earthquakes, to build resilient, use new materials that would last longer, bridges that last at least 100 years as opposed to 50, and use materials that were more climate friendly,” he said.
It included tax credits for electric car buyers and transit for urban areas. It included highways built from concrete designed at Oregon State University that can absorb carbon dioxide.
It also included electrical stations at regular intervals along highways and freeways, even at rest areas.
Despite the fact that FedEx and General Motors are going all-electric, that was cut from the Senate’s version.
“Basically the Senate bill was written by fossil fuel industry advocates, all Republicans denying climate change and a couple of Democrats who were on board with them,” he said.
The likelihood of increased wildfires due to climate change is another major concern for DeFazio. He said it’s important to thin the forests to reduce fuel loads and make them more fire-resistant.
“I’ve talked to a lot of fire scientists. They say you know 15 years ago the routine severe fire behavior we’re seeing now did not exist. It just didn’t exist. Fires did not create their own weather,” he said.
DeFazio had visited Orenco Systems in Sutherlin prior to visiting with The News-Review and praised the wastewater systems the company makes as very innovative. He also cited them as a good example of green business as a job creator.
Making more success stories like that will require a combination of growing local businesses and targeted federal investment policy, he said.
DeFazio said he wants to see more wind and solar manufactured in America and targeted investments in bringing jobs to areas that are depressed and underemployed, like Douglas County or Coos Bay.
He praised President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, saying it would not only invest in transportation but also the workforce.
DeFazio supports having more technical job training and two years of free community college, as well as affordable childcare to help single parents get back into the workforce.
He also spoke about improving Medicare. He supports Biden’s goal of lowering the Medicare age to 60. More immediately, DeFazio wants Medicare patients to have cheaper medications.
“I have long had the position, like every other developed nation on Earth, the United States should negotiate lower drug prices for all its citizens,” he said.
He said he doesn’t buy the pharmaceutical industry argument that it needs to charge Americans more for drugs to pay for research costs.
“The statistics show they spend more money on dividends, executive compensation, advertising and other overhead by far than they do on research. And they are the most consistently profitable industry in the United States of America,” he said.
He also said he took away the antitrust immunity of the health insurance industry last year after a 20-year fight. It’s a move he said will block the industry from colluding to increase premiums.
“I got it into a year-end bill. They didn’t notice it. Kinda snuck it in. They went berserk afterwards,” he said.
DeFazio has also secured money in the appropriations bill for several projects in his district, including a federally qualified health center in Cottage Grove that will serve North Douglas County patients and $30 million to fix the rapidly deteriorating north jetty at Coos Bay.