Oregon's senior U.S. senator describes U.S. Rep Paul Ryan, the GOP's vice presidential nominee, as a "good fella."
In fact, Democrat Ron Wyden and Ryan co-wrote an 11-page white paper last year that proposed major Medicare reform.
But don't think for a moment that Wyden supports Ryan and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the general election.
"He called me after his nomination — he's a good fella but he is not the top of the ticket," Wyden said during a visit with the Mail Tribune editorial board.
"The top of the ticket is obviously Mitt Romney, the one who will be calling the shots," he added. "I've looked at how Romney and some of his surrogates tried to inflate this white paper into my being in favor of everything they had to say about Medicare. He had up on his website for some time that he had been involved in a bipartisan approach on Medicare."
Wyden, known nationally for his advocacy for the elderly and his support for a Medicare guarantee, said he began getting calls asking about Romney's involvement in Medicare reform.
"I had to tell them I had never met him," Wyden said of the political dustup earlier this month.
"But Paul Ryan had some ideas that I felt, particularly looking down the road, could give us a chance to protect the Medicare guarantee," he said.
The white paper, which was a policy paper and not legislation, laid out a foundation that could have bipartisan support, he said.
"That includes bulletproof protection for low-income people as opposed to block grants," he said. "The white paper does not throw out all the parts of the Affordable Care Act, for example, that encourages a new delivery system in Medicare.
"I made it clear that traditional Medicare had to always survive," he continued. "People had to have that as an option in which the government paid for the doctors and the hospitals."
But after the paper was released, the House Republican caucus wouldn't accept it, he said.
As a result of changes made in Ryan's proposed budget bill that passed the House, Wyden voted against it when it arrived in the Senate and also spoke out against it on the Senate floor.
"It basically breaks the Medicare guarantee," Wyden concluded.
However, he said he remains dedicated to working on both sides of the aisle to bring about Medicare reform that guarantees its survival.
"Medicare is such an important issue," he said. "With 10,000 people turning 65 every day for the next 20 years, I made the judgment I didn't want to be part of this just kicking the can down the road."
Nor is Wyden giving up on finding a way to help create and move a bill renewing county timber payments through Congress.
"I'm starting with two bedrock principles that we've got to have more active management and get more people back to work in the woods," he said.
The management is needed to thin woods that are overgrown and ripe for devastating wildfires, he noted.
"The fires are getting bigger and we ought to go in there and clean that stuff out," he said.
He called for more collaborative efforts such as the 6.7 million board feet Vine Maple timber sale in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District, which endorses an ecological forestry approach that leaves the biggest trees. The sale, which will be auctioned off early next month, has been supported by both the timber industry and environmental activists.
Wyden observes there is growing support for getting Oregonians back to work in the woods to boost employment.
"And there are millions and millions of acres of second growth that we ought to go in there and thin out," he said. "We need to get that to the mills or use for biomass."
However, he acknowledges passage will require additional supporters in states where federal forests are not as commonplace as the West.
He rejects the suggestion by some that the counties are receiving "welfare."
"This agreement between the counties and the federal government was entered into a hundred years ago," he said.
Wyden will travel to Alaska this weekend to meet with U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who will be the senior Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the next session. Wyden is the incoming senior Democrat on the committee.
"Lisa has been a strong supporter of timber payments," he said. "We will be working together to try to get rural communities off this roller coaster."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.