U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer
(D-Ore.) stopped by WW
yesterday for his biennial endorsement interview. The seven-term incumbent explained why unlike previous years, he did not include a request for funding for the Columbia River Crossing
bridge project in his list of congressional earmarks; why he thinks critics of the city's plan to spend $600 million or more on bicycle infrastructure over the next 20 years are wrong; and how Congress will respond to recent news that Social Security
outflows are projected
to exceed income this year for the first time ever.
Blumenauer's earmark requests in the past have included money for the CRC planning process. But this year, he requested
money for the Sellwood Bridge and not the CRC, despite the Oregon Department of Transportation's request that he ask for $3 million. In previous years, according to ODOT's request
, Blumenauer secured a total of $25 million for the project. That of course raises questions about whether his support for the CRC, most recently projected to cost $3.6 billion, is flagging.
Blumenauer says that until CRC proponents and critics can resolve their differing views over how to solve bridge congestion, he's not going to push for more funding. “My position is, when the community comes together with a vision that they can help pay for, we will be a full partner with them. But I'm not interested in pretending that getting a million or two tossed into this when it's not ready for prime time is a better investment of our political capital than something like the Sellwood Bridge, where we have consensus, we have the funding, and we're ready to go,” Blumenauer says.
On the city's bike plan, Blumenauer says critics have focused too much on the total price tag of $600 million and not enough on the fact that expenditures will come over a 20-year period. He adds that necessary upgrades to Willamette River bridges will be far more expensive over the same period. And he says the plan is a good investment in terms of how many people bike infrastructure will accommodate and shift from single-occupancy vehicles.
"I think some people have gotten excited about the plan for the wrong reasons," Blumenauer says. "I think it is a reasonable bicycle vision for our community.”
Finally, Blumenauer says that Congress must tackle a Social Security system that was built when Americans' life expectancies were far shorter than they are today. As tens of millions of baby boomers reach retirement age, they will overwhelm the system's ability to pay their benefits. Blumenauer says part of the solution is to raise the top income level upon which people pay Social Security taxes (currently $103,000) and perhaps more controversially, raise the age at which people can receive benefits. (Currently, according to the feds, that age is 66 for people born between 1943 and 1954, increasing gradually to 67 for people born in 1960 or later.)
Blumenauer says sooner than later, Congress must reduce demands on the system by raising that age further, perhaps by a month per year for several years.
“We will have to do that—raise the age," he says. "But it doesn't have to be wrenching.”
Blumenauer faces perennial candidate John Sweeney, a retired Portland Parks and Recreation employee, in the May primary. A video of the endorsement interview will appear on WW's