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Bonamici, Schrader hold 'congressional conversation' at PCC Rock Creek

Portland-area members of Congress speak about transportation, trade, bipartisanship

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader speak at a Westside Economic Alliance event in the event center at Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus Tuesday morning.The United States Congress may not be in session at the moment, but two of its local representatives were hard at work in the Beaverton area on Tuesday.

Two of the Portland metropolitan area's representatives in Congress provided their perspectives on the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., and discussed their legislative priorities at a forum on Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus Tuesday morning.

Democratic Reps. Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Schrader were the featured speakers for "a congressional conversation" at the Westside Economic Alliance's monthly breakfast. The business group invited them to speak and take questions from attendees, including local mayors, Washington County commissioners and prominent businesspeople.

Bonamici and Schrader both talked about the prospects for a new federal transportation bill, which advocates say is needed to improve outmoded and decaying infrastructure, such as bridges and highways, and upgrade overstressed transportation networks throughout the country.

Suzanne Bonamici.Bonamici said a “long-term solution” is needed for transportation, which she named among her top priorities.

“Transportation is something that needs to be funded long-term,” she said. “It's so important to our economy, to maintaining our roads, our bridges, our infrastructure. … The debate currently is how we pay for it.”

Schrader said he sees hope for a six-year transportation bill and believes Congress can come to a bipartisan agreement on how to fund it.

“I'm a little more optimistic than I've been in the last seven years on transportation,” he said. “By the end of the year, I'm actually slightly optimistic.”

Schrader, who spoke for the bulk of the time at the forum after Bonamici had to leave early, is a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of centrist and conservative Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives. He praised House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, for reaching out to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and other Democrats to try to find common cause on key bills, such as a budget to fund the Department of Homeland Security that passed with bipartisan support earlier this year.

“Stuff is actually happening, despite all the hyperbole and clown shows that you see on TV,” Schrader said.

But Schrader was critical of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative Republican members of Congress, saying they oppose all new government spending.

“That's just anti-business. That's just silly,” he said. “That doesn't make any sense. I was brought up, if you want to make money, you spend a little money.”

Bonamici noted that both she and Schrader broke with the majority of congressional Democrats to support legislation earlier this year granting President Barack Obama authority to move forward with negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed free trade bloc of more than a dozen Pacific Rim countries.

“We want to see a strong agreement that helps us export goods from Oregon and build our Oregon businesses here, and also have the labor and environmental protections that we'd like to see in a multinational trade agreement,” she said.

Kurt Schrader.Bonamici and Schrader also talked about the possibility of another federal government shutdown next month, similar to the shutdown that lasted half a month in October 2013.

Schrader said he thinks Boehner and his Republican counterpart in the upper house, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, will avert a shutdown. He criticized the notion of stripping federal funding for Planned Parenthood from a crucial budget bill and daring Obama to veto it, as many Republican lawmakers have suggested.

“It's counterproductive,” he said. “We got nine days to make thoughtful, meaningful decisions about funding critical … projects, and they're playing around with playing to their right-wing base. I think that's criminal, personally. And I don't mean that as a partisan statement. It's just not the way you should run your family, your business, your state or your nation.”

Schrader said he does not believe there are enough votes in the Senate to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Canby Democrat also got in a dig or two at his own party.

“Democrats don't like to pay for anything,” he said half-jokingly, adding after a moment, “That's probably a generalization.”

He later remarked, “Congress wants, the rank-and-file want, to work. What we need is leadership. We need Nancy and John to stand up to the extremes in the party.”

Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, who directed several questions toward Schrader at the forum, said he was glad to hear the congressman speak frankly.

“I always enjoy your candor,” he told Schrader toward the end of the event. “It's something that 433 other people in Congress should have.”


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