Last week the House defeated on a largely party-line vote the so-called Secure Schools Act, a bill to continue federal payments to timber-dependent Oregon counties. Oregon's four other House members - all Democrats, and all from the state's west side - voted "yes." Walden, who represents the state's most rural district, was the only "no." (The actual vote was 218 in favor to 192 against, but because of a procedural quirk a two-thirds majority was needed.)
The bill would have provided $250 million to Oregon counties that formerly received a substantial share of federal revenue from timber sales on government-owned timberlands - payments that the counties stopped getting after the timber industry went belly up. The money is used for law enforcement, libraries and other services as well as education.
Walden and Rep. Peter DeFazio, the bill's principal sponsor, got into a shouting, fist-shaking fracas on the House floor as the bill was debated Thursday, with Walden accusing the Democrat of breaking his promise about how the payments would be funded.
DeFazio's plan was to get the money by closing an unintentional loophole that let energy companies get out of paying some royalties on offshore oil and gas leases. Walden didn't like that. Instead he came forward with an alternate proposal to increase offshore oil drilling and develop liquid coal technology - both controversial ideas that would have little chance of getting through Congress.
Walden claimed it would have been illegal for Congress to close the loophole in the oil and gas leases. But DeFazio said the Congressional Research Service has reported that it would be "perfectly legal." He also said he had discussed the funding mechanism in his bill with Walden (who originally co-sponsored it) and "at no time did [he] indicate to me that [it] was a deal-breaker."
What happened to change Walden's mind? One can only speculate, of course - and an angry DeFazio was quite willing to do so. "Was he pushing us to bring the bill to the floor so he could oppose it?" he told reporters. "Or did someone come down like a ton of bricks on him in the interim? I think he got crosswise between his constituents, Big Oil and the Republican leadership and he's in a very tough spot."
Or maybe he was just overwhelmed by sudden compassion for the oil companies.
The timber payments bill probably would have failed even with Walden's vote, but his opposition obviously didn't help. Thanks to him and the other Republicans in the House, the chance of restoring timber payments this year probably has evaporated.
Unfortunately, Walden's district is so rock-solid Republican that even this slap in the face won't be enough to persuade his constituents to give him THE BOOT. But we can, and we do.