U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio took a break from going around in circles in the nation's capital this week to go around in circles on Albany's downtown carousel.
The Democrat, Oregon's most senior member of Congress, was in the mid-valley Thursday to hold town hall meetings in Albany and Corvallis, where he answered questions and shared his thoughts on health care, sanctuary cities and the nation's infrastructure.
But before that, he took a brief tour of the Historic Carousel & Museum, revisiting his favorite steed, the dragon known as Igknighter, and taking a spin on Chinook, a leaping salmon. "I never caught a fish this big," he joked.
A literal circus atmosphere, even for just a short time, was preferable to the circus that has been Washington, D.C., in recent days, DeFazio said.
The U.S. Representative for Oregon's 4th congressional district, DeFazio has served since 1987 and said he can't compare this particular session — from the seesawing positions of the presidential administration to ongoing congressional attempts to repeal or retool the Affordable Care Act — to anything in his previous experience.
"Every day, it's kind of like — who knows?" he said. "There are days when people on either side of the aisle are totally shocked by one thing or another."
In contrast to D.C. stalemates, however, DeFazio said he felt Thursday's town hall in Albany moved forward with a number of issues, at least in terms of presenting information. Close to 150 people crowded the community room at the main branch of the Albany Public Library for the meeting.
DeFazio stressed his support for rebuilding roads and bridges, which he would fund through bills to increase the per-user fee on airports and through a 1.5-cent increase in the gas tax, which has not gone up since 1993. He also opposes privatization of the nation's roads.
He addressed a number of question on health care, including marijuana (he supports removing it from the restrictions of the federal Class C schedule) backlogs at Veterans Administration hospitals (he supports creation of an internal group to advocate specifically for patient rights) and attempts to reduce Medicaid coverage (DeFazio's district has the fifth largest number of people in the nation who rely on expanded Medicaid to cover their health care costs).
"If Medicaid reimbursement for nursing homes went away, a lot of people would find Grandma and Grandpa coming home to live in the basement," DeFazio said. "No one can afford a nursing home."
DeFazio took exception to a question from a man who called him a socialist and wanted to know why he voted for so-called "sanctuary" cities.
First, the lawmaker said, he didn't: he voted no on a measure that would have penalized states with sanctuary laws. Part of the reason was lack of clarity, he said: "Sanctuary laws are in the eye of the beholder."
And, he added, he's a progressive populist Democrat rather than a socialist.
In response to questions about whether and how Washington's current partisan gridlock might ease, DeFazio said he has hope but sees little possibility of getting corporate interests out of the mix.
"We've got the best government money can buy," he quipped wryly. "Can it survive this flood of money? I don't know. The system's pretty broken. Very broken. And it's putting our democracy at risk."
DeFazio also held a town meeting Thursday night in Corvallis.