U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, the only Republican in Oregon's congressional delegation, has been riding high since his party kicked Democratic tail in the November election.
The former radio-station owner from Hood River is heading up his party's transition committee to 2011, when the GOP will take over the House. And he has been getting a lot of face time as a result on national news shows as well as profiles in outlets such as The Washington Post.
Sadly, the Rogue Desk must now add to Walden's growing stack of news clippings, but not in a glowing way.
Walden was the only one of Oregon's five House members to vote no Nov. 18 on a proposed three-month extension of federal unemployment benefits for an estimated 800,000 Americans who have been out of work for long stretches.
The vote on a procedural motion that would have allowed an immediate vote fell 30 votes short of a needed two-thirds majority—and Walden was one of 142 Republicans who voted no. The impact of that no vote came in sharp relief this week as an estimated 7,500 Oregon families stood poised to lose their benefits Nov. 30, with another 7,500 families to follow next month.
"We're on the verge of disaster," said Eleyna Fugman, a 35-year-old Southeast Portland woman who has been employed irregularly as a political organizer and retail sales worker for the past 18 months.
Fugman—who gets $257 a week in unemployment benefits—spoke up with about a dozen others at a rally Nov. 29 in downtown Portland to protest the rejected benefits extension. Fugman and others said the economy as a whole benefits when they pay their bills with the unemployment benefits they get.
Oregon's unemployment rate is 10.5 percent. And Bruce Dennis, former president of the Carpenters Local 247 union in Portland, said that after Congress supported bailouts of banks and large corporations, he looks forward to receiving support for unemployed workers soon.
"I hope they'll wake up and represent those in need," he said.
In an effort to extend the benefits, Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden (both D-Ore.) were among 29 senators who signed a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) asking for a vote on extending the benefits until Dec. 31, 2011.
Those who voted against the benefits extension have said the country needs to reduce its spending, and the $12 billion unemployment benefits program would only deepen the deficit. Walden spokesman Andrew Whelan tells WW his boss "supports unemployment insurance."
"He voted for it before," Whelan said. "His concern was that it wasn't paid for. Right now Americans want to see some fiscal responsibility. He certainly supports the extension and just wants to see it paid for."