Senator Merkley’s Town Hall
Addie Greene, Chronicle Reporter
“The Senate just passed net neutrality,” Sen. Jeff Merkley told his town hall audience at Medford Central High School May 29. “Now it’s up to the House.” He also is proposing a tenfold expansion of rural broadband.
Another immediate concern for Merkley is the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) and limiting the president’s ability to declare war. The original AUMF was passed in 2001 two days after 9/11 and gave the president sweeping authority to wage war against any “terrorist” organization. It was used by George Bush in Iraq, Barack Obama in Libya, and now Donald Trump in Syria.
“Many in Congress are comfortable with the AUMF because they don’t have to make decisions,” the senator said, “but it is very important for Congress to regain control” as stated in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The AUMF has come up for renewal, and Merkley is offering legislation with a three-year sunset of all current wars and to end presidential authorization for all new military actions.
On the much vaunted presidential infrastructure issue, Merkley explained that it requires an 80% local contribution to a 20% federal match. “If local areas had 80% of the funds needed, they would have started the projects already,” he said.
When he opened the town hall to questions, he was asked “to what degree do you want to address mental health related to mass shootings?” He replied that every high school should have a mental health counsellor.
A constituent who receives $1,224 a month in disability after having had four cancer surgeries in five years complained that Oregon now is refusing to pay for his medical care. Merkley took the man’s name and referred him to his Senate team of caseworkers.
Another man spoke of “submission to God who has created us all” and asked “What are you doing to cultivate faithfulness?” Merkley smoothly replied, “Here in America we appropriately have the tradition of not having a state religion.” “We need to stand together with all members of our community,” he added.
The senator spoke of the Landscape Forest Restoration Act and his mission to double the program, with the two senators from Idaho signed on. The bill would treat large fires like earthquakes and floods, which would shift some responsibility for fighting fires from the state to the federal government.
“What can you do about the 5G cell tower at SOU?” a woman asked. Merkley said he was unfamiliar with the issue and “would love to get information from you about the health concerns.” He mentioned a 1996 ruling by the FEC that health issues cannot be used in relation to cell towers.
In speaking of the high price of drugs, Merkley said, “Drug companies change their prescriptions slightly, making it difficult for generics” to come on the market. “We must give Medicare the authority to negotiate prices,” he added, and said that provision is part of his “Medicare for all” legislation.
“What is our top concern? Where do we put our focus?” he asked. “We have to restore our governmental institutions, which are being corrupted.” He cited the attempt to destroy the Affordable Care Act, passage of massive tax cuts for the rich, and the theft of the Supreme Court seat. “We must take on climate change,” he said, and provide living wage jobs. “When we’re disengaged, bad things happen.”
He urged audience members to contact their legislators, who are listening. He advised against “snail mail,” which “takes a very long time because it must be vetted.”
“How can we deal with politicians who lie?” Merkley asked. “Do your best, do what’s right, and never step on other people. My parents had these core values,” he said. “I don’t know how to solve the problem except by election.” “In social media we have the acceleration of lies,” he said, and told his audience to “challenge social media’s truthfulness.”
The senator ticked off a list of the problems America faces: homelessness, crime, and drug problems. “Working Americans’ wages have been flat or declining,” he said, and “We must address the economic circumstances causing homelessness.”
“What can we do about taking children from their parents?” a woman asked. “That is an executive branch function that can be changed only by election and action by Congress,” he replied. “Let’s celebrate our diversity,” he added, and “We have to pass a comprehensive immigration bill and restore the Dreamers’ status.”
“What do you think needs to be done to address the financial sector?” he was asked. Merkley cited the watering down of Dodd-Frank and said “Mulvaney is tearing that place apart.”
He was referring to Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Merkley cited the Volker Rule: “Don’t turn banks into casinos,” wire loans and predatory mortgages. “Every time a (financial) breakdown occurs, the very wealthy benefit,” he said.
At the beginning of the town hall, Merkley honored Max’s Mission, which is “to save a life from overdosing,” with a commemorative plaque.
Merkley’s final words were,“We have got to restore our institutions,” and “We have to double down on carbon pollution and have 100% clean and renewable energy in two decades in Oregon.”