U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario. (The Enterprise/file)

GRANTS PASS – U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, making his first public appearance in Grants Pass since he was elected one year ago, said Wednesday that he had a few reasons for voting against President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill that cleared Congress last week.

“We don’t need to be adding to the deficit,” Oregon’s lone congressional Republican said after a town hall meeting at the Basker Auditorium. “There are elements of the Green New Deal in the infrastructure bill, and I do not support them. It’s also drastically underfunded.”

The president intends to sign the legislation Monday.

Infrastructure funding can often be a nonpartisan exercise, but Biden’s bill passed mostly along party lines, 228-206, in the House after clearing the Senate by a 69-30 vote in August. During the town hall, Bentz warned the approximately 100 people who attended the town hall that the bill also “opened the door to this big bill that is a dramatic expansion in social programs.”

That would be Biden’s $1.75 trillion Build Back Better package that’s now under negotiation and includes billions of dollars for health care, education and family programs, in addition to $555 billion to deal with climate change, including a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% from 2005 levels.

“We already have social programs we can’t pay for. Why are we adding more?” he said. “That bill will truly put us over the edge.”

Bentz, a rancher, lawyer and former state legislator from Eastern Oregon, took the seat in the vast 2nd Congressional District from Greg Walden, who retired from the House after 22 years. Grants Pass is part of Bentz’s district, and starting in 2022 all of Josephine County will be part of it if a new redistricting map withstands challenges.

Bentz learned the ins and outs of legislative politics from Walden and from Walden’s predecessor, Bob Smith, whose grazing lands bordered Bentz’s east of Burns. Bentz went on to champion farmers, ranchers and small business people in the Oregon Legislature.

He told the crowd, “I’m bringing to the nation’s attention the challenges we face in the West.”

That includes the use of natural resources, which he promotes over preservation.

“My goal in Washington is to try to get us back in the woods,” Bentz said.

He said that during a House Natural Resources Committee meeting earlier this year, smoke from the Bootleg Fire in Klamath County was showing up in Washington D.C.

“I said, ‘Look out the window. You can see part of Oregon blowing over.’

“You could smell Oregon burning.”

As for climate change, he believes forest thinning to reduce fires would be a first step, as opposed to capping greenhouse gases.

“If we stopped all CO2 emissions today, would that stop it? No. The first thing would be to remove all the excess wood from the forest.”

Bentz said he would raise the height of dams such as the Shasta Dam in Northern California to store more water, and he promotes mining to reduce reliance on foreign countries. China has a near-monopoly on rare earth metals used in electronics and in green technology.

“We have the minerals,” he said. “Why rely on China?”

Bentz explained why he voted against the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year, following the Republican party line.

“That tsunami of money is why we’re seeing inflation now, the worst inflation in 31 years,” he said.

Bentz ran down a list of what he called blunders by the Democratic president, including soaring prices for food and fuel, a lack of control of the U.S.-Mexico border, and the “embarrassing” withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“The Biden administration has apparently decided to surrender the border and just let people across,” he said.

Bentz went to Texas to see it himself earlier this year.

“We drove up and down the border at night,” he said. “There were 2,000 people under an underpass who had just come through. There are organizations in the United States complicit in trafficking across the border who aren’t being prosecuted. The president should be doing something about it. Our border patrol is overwhelmed.”

One person at Wednesday’s town hall voiced concern over voting integrity. In January, hours after rioting supporters of then-President Donald Trump breached the U.S. Capitol, Bentz voted to reject the certification of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes for Biden.

A member of the House Judiciary Committee, Bentz said he is against the Democratic-backed For the People Act, aka H.R. 1, comprehensive legislation that would expand voting rights and change campaign finance laws.

“When we have the audacity to question voting in some states, we’re instantly labeled racist,” Bentz said. “People have accused me of being racist because I opposed H.R. 1.”

Bentz told his constituents Wednesday that Republicans are poised to regain control of the House in the 2022 elections.

“And at some point we need a new president,” he added.

This story published with permission of the Grants Pass Daily Courier.