Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley met with around 100 residents of the Central Coast Sunday at noon at the Lincoln City Cultural Center to give a wide ranging update on what’s happening in Washington D.C., especially as it pertains to Oregon. Merkley also took many questions from the audience.
Senator Merkley said there is more small port dredge money headed for the coast, acknowledging that small ports, as is the case along the Oregon Coast, are very important to the coast economy.
In a move to reduce compliance costs for recreation and commercial fishermen, Senator Merkley’s bill replaces fish observers for recreational and commercial fishing operations with electronic log books. The devices replace a time-consuming and expensive compliance process that requires physical observers to be present on fishing boats.
Senator Merkley said he helped to bring about the expansion of Head Start and K-12 education – both for young students and more funds for regular public school students
Merkley lauded President Obama for announcing new restrictions on the National Security Agency when it comes to keeping phone records on ordinary Americans. But Merkley added that the proof of the NSA course correction should be paramount.
Speaking of the beleaguered American middle class, Senator Merkley noted that the U.S. lost a lot of jobs at the beginning of the longest recession in history, commencing 2008. He said of the jobs lost, 60% were family wage jobs. But as for new employment, as the country sputters to pull itself out of the economic muck, only 40% of the jobs coming back are family wage jobs.
Senator Merkley said the Congress has addressed so-called “Liar Loans” which allowed those who should never have gotten a mortgage between 2000-2007, to never let that happen again. Merkley also pointed out that the country could pull itself out of the recession by simply rebuilding the country’s water and sewer facilities, roads, highways, bridges, schools and other critical facilities. Also offering easier access to vocational retraining and to higher education at colleges and universities.
Merkley said the U.S. is falling behind other countries and regions of the world that keep up with such facility needs. He said Europe spends 5% of their Gross Domestic Product on facility needs, China 10%! The U.S., a meager 2%. Merkley said the country deeply needs to invest in those facilities and its people.
Merkley said there have been some encouraging signs that America has truly learned something about the 2008 crash – something Merkley called high stakes gambling by Wall Street Banks using hometown bank assets which caused millions of people to lose their savings, their retirements, their homes and their future. Merkley said that regulations that put up a firewall between Wall Street and Main Street banks has survived a horrendous onslaught of lobbying pressure to keep the gambling roulette wheel spinning. “It was a pleasant surprise, to find out that those writing reglations for the new law stuck to their guns,” said Merkley.
But Merkley lamented the fact that so many Wall Street CEO’s and money managers deliberately played fast and loose with the country’s money and yet no one’s been put on trial or sent to jail. “Too big to fail, too big to jail,” has been the rule of thumb set by the U.S. Attorney General’s Office. “Yet, the girlfriend of a drug pusher was sent to prison for 15 years after police found her boyfriend’s coffee can full of money hidden in the house without her knowledge,” said Merkley. Merkley also pointed to fines levied against some Wall Street firms that are but a tiny fraction of the huge profits they made during unethical transactions. “It was treated like just another cost of doing business,” Merkley told the crowd. “That’s not right,” he said. “This country’s symbol of justice, the blindfolded woman holding the scales has been ignored. It doesn’t matter whether you are rich or poor, all citizens are held to the same high standards of protection or prosecution under the law. Our U.S. Department of Justice is letting us down.”
On other matters Lincoln County Health Services Director Cheryl Connell reported that they are signing up local citizens left and right for Medicaid and Affordable Care Act coverage, since the Cover Oregon computer sign-up system is still not operating properly. “We’re doing it with paper applications, and that certainly is working,” Connell said.
When asked his position on the proposed and highly controversial Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, Merkley said he opposes any “fast track” approval as proposed to the Congress. Merkley said such agreements can affect the lives of every American citizen and that before there is any vote on it, it should be held in abeyance until the full content of the agreement is known. Merkley said the short and long term effects on the American economy, laws and relative competitiveness should be fully explained and documented. He added that the U.S. has lost five million manufacturing jobs over the last few years which has been terrible for the American economy and very hard on families who now scramble just to make ends meet. Merkley said after Citizens United, the bullhorns of Wall Street and conservative PACs have shouted down the voices of the people who need help. Merkley said the first three words of the U.S. Constitution starts with the three words, “We the people,” not “We the powerful.”
Merkley lamented the Republican Party’s continued filibuster in the Senate that blocks the extension of unemployment checks for the long-term unemployed. Those benefits for some ran out in mid-December. As the year wears on, millions of jobless individuals and families will be out in the cold if those benefits are not extended. Merkley said the soonest that a reconvening Congress could act on it is now January 27th. Federal officials urge those who have lost, or will soon lose, their extended unemployment benefits, to continue to file for those benefits since if and when they are reinstated, you’ll get back pay from the time you were cut off.