U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden stands for a photo with Phoenix High School students Thursday during a stop on his “Listening to the Future Tour.” - Jamie Lusch

Sen. Ron Wyden takes questions from students

Oregon's senior U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden went back to school, taking questions from students at Phoenix and Ashland high schools today.

The visits were part of his ongoing "Listening to the Future Tour," which will include a dozen high schools across the state.

"Recently in our agriculture class, we were talking about how Oregon has one of the highest minimum wages in the U.S.," said Phoenix student Lillian Tegner. "We were talking about the pros and cons of that, how we needed a high minimum wage so people can support their families, and yet some people are losing their jobs because some companies would have less money to pay their workers."

With that, the sophomore asked Wyden a decidedly non-sophomoric question: Where does he stand on the issue?

"I've supported Oregon's minimum wage," he said. "But what I really support is policies that raise everybody's wage."

He launched an in-depth explanation of how increasing Oregon exports with homegrown and value-added goods can help its economy and increase employment around the state.

Two students asked about two different aspects of Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act. Others wondered about nuclear proliferation, subsidies for cattle ranchers and the federal government's monitoring of cellphones.

One student asked whether there will be another government shutdown soon because Congress only extended the debt deadline to early next year instead of resolving it.

"I don't think we will have another shutdown," Wyden told the students. "Anyone who runs for re-election in 2014 — the next election for Congress — and is part of something that involves shutting down the government will find voters very angry.

"We lost billions of dollars for our economy during this 16-day shutdown," he added. "I think the consequences of another shutdown, particularly for anyone trying to run for re-election in 2014, will be so negative."

Wyden is chairman of the powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a member of the Intelligence Committee and on a special committee of senators and representatives whose mission is to ensure Congress does not repeat the recent partial federal government shutdown.

While it is counterintuitive for students to think about Medicare and taxes at their age, both loom large in their near future, he said. If Congress can't figure out a way to provide affordable quality health care for seniors, it will directly impact today's young people, he said.

"Because all the money will go there and there won't be money for education, student loans, parks, environment, transportation — all the stuff you care about is directly affected by our ability to come up with a solution that ensures our seniors get good, quality affordable care," he warned.

However, he also stressed the nation has to get control of its debts by prudently cutting costs.

— Paul Fattig

Read more in Friday's newspaper.

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