Sen. Merkley in Newport: Gets anti-Citizens United message – gives thoughts on “state of Washington D.C.”
Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley made a double-stop in Newport Saturday, first meeting with Occupy Newport members who presented Merkley with a copy of the recently voter-passed declaration that Lincoln County wants the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on “Citizens United” (corporations are people/money is free speech) overturned or amended out of the U.S. Constitution. Merkley said there is a nationwide movement against the controversial Court ruling and a number of approaches to the issue are being explored. He agreed that the ruling changed the nature of U.S. elections, especially in state houses and especially for U.S. Congress and Presidential races, adding that the change was not good because the voices of the partisan wealthy drowns out the voices of averages citizens in terms of campaign contributions.
Merkley then traveled to Oregon Coast Community College where a large crowd of citizens gathered to get an update from Senator Merkley on what many have called a “paralyzed Congress.”
Merkley said the paralysis is caused by an abuse of the Senate filibuster rule which can shut down any debate over any issue, no matter how important. From the time a legislator evokes a filibuster, it can take weeks for it to be stopped; but even then the issue is probably dead because if it’s reintroduced, some legislator will again evoke a fresh filibuster. Some in the crowd mentioned that the filibuster has been used by the Republicans hundreds of times over the past few years which has literally shut down the Congress because no important legislation can even be talked about if it’s filibustered. Merkley said it’s been very frustrating that the filibuster has been used in such a way, especially during the longest and most painful recession in the last 80 years. Merkley recently called for the end of the filibuster but Senate Majority Leader and Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada says he won’t propose the end of the filibuster. But one thing he will do is ensure that if it’s used, those who enact it will have to stay on the floor and talk about why they don’t like the bill they’re filibustering. No more filing the filibuster and then reading the weather forecast out loud or reciting poetry or flying back home.
Merkley heard from a single mother who is trying to earn a two year college science degree so she can have a career. She said she’s always broke, can’t afford child care, she tries to work but it’s hard to juggle everything and school work too. Merkley told her that the country needs to offer more help to struggling students who are truly tomorrow’s work force. He said other than lower interest rates on student loans, food stamps and work study, it’s pretty difficult. He lamented that the U.S. is the only industrialized country in the world whose last generation has more education than the current one.
On the issue of gun control, Merkley said that the latest school massacre at Sandy Hook shows that the country must do something about the proliferation of guns; especially those with big magazines and can kill a lot of people in a short amount of time. But he quickly added that anything the government does to regulate gun ownership must be consistent with the Second Amendment to the Constitution. He said President Obama must lead on this issue. Obama has mentioned that mental health background checks, in addition to criminal background checks, must be part of the solution which means cracking down on free wheeling gun shows that frequently don’t do any background checks because they legally don’t have to. If you have the money, you get the gun.
Merkley asked the crowd, “How many here favor restrictions on semi-automatic weapons?” All but three people in the room raised their hands.
Merkley got a few questions on climate change and Merkley said, “Climate change is a big deal and we’re seeing signs of it all over the world. He pointed out out that average world temperatures have been rising for the past 120 years, and that the North Pole ice sheets have receded dramatically. Merkley said when the ice melts, direct sunlight warms up the northern oceans which more powerfully drives wind and rain storms coming down and across the country. Tropical reefs are dying and the world’s oceans are becoming more acidic which is a threat to aquatic life.
Merkely said instead of contributing to global warming and climate change, the U.S. should be developing alternative energy sources that don’t rely on fossil fuels. In the meantime he suggested much greater use of natural gas which emits far lower quantities of hydrocarbons, including carbon dioxide.
On the issue of “dark money” in federal and state elections, Merkley said such 501c4 “civic organizations” have been spending millions on elections without having to disclose who’s behind it. Merkley said it strikes to the heart of our democracy in that huge piles of secret money are operating behind closed doors without having to reveal who the donors are.