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Making the American dream a reality

Merkley seeks economic reform amidst bitter Senate partisanship


by: J. BRIAN MONIHAN - U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley made a stop in Lake Oswego on Monday to talk about his ideas on how to reverse the decline of the middle class.U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley has declared the restoration of America’s middle class as the battleground for his 2014 re-election campaign in Oregon.

He talked about his remedies for this at the Lake Oswego Rotary Club meeting on Monday at the Lakewood Center for the Arts. Creating more jobs that pay a living wage and finding ways to bolster funding for college education are at the top of his agenda.

“We’ve made choices to not put the middle class first in recent years,” said Merkley, a native of Myrtle Creek. “Of the jobs lost in the Great Recession, 60 percent were living-wage jobs. Of the jobs gained since the recession ended, only 40 percent are living-wage jobs. That means more jobs pay minimum wage and offer few benefits. Shouldn’t the American dream be more alive?”

Like so many issues, Merkley says this one faces a great divide in the Senate, and he laments the loss of functionality he has seen in the Senate since he first observed it at work as an aide in the 1970s.

“We have a paralysis of government,” Merkley said. “I saw the Senate being very functional when I first saw it in action. When I came back as a senator in 2009, the Senate was in a deep freeze. Every avenue of action was blocked by bitter partisanship. Americans expect action from their representatives.”

No drastic change is expected in this situation soon, but Merkley is trying to stir activity with a raft of legislation, sponsoring 40 bills along with other senators, mostly aimed at increasing manufacturing jobs in America.

And he does have a recent victory to show for his efforts with the passage last week of a bill to limit filibusters against some government nominations. Merkley has also been part of efforts to prevent the financial loan mismanagement that played such a large role in bringing on the economic meltdown of the Great Recession. He wants to ban mortgage payments that triple in size after attracting borrowers with a low rate for the first two years. In addition, a cap has been placed on interest rates on loans that sometimes have reached 500 percent.

“Millions are now getting fair mortgages,” Merkley said. “This is wealth building, not wealth stripping.”

The senator said that the prohibitive cost of a college education inhibits the very notion of the American dream.

“Parents are now uncertain whether the path they had is available to their children,” Merkley said. “College students face having a millstone around their necks with no guarantee of a job at the end.”

To solve this, Merkley said an experiment with a “pay it forward” approach to funding education was worth a try.

He said, “There are questions about it, but it’s worth having a pilot program.”

Merkley couldn’t get away from the audience without answering a question about the Affordable Care Act. Although Merkley supports the law, claiming it had already brought about some positive practices, he said it had a key flaw: the failure to foresee that the act would cause a wave of health insurance cancellations by companies. This caused the Democratic Party to suffer a setback because of President Barack Obama’s promise that no one would be forced to give up health insurance they liked.

Merkley said he is now co-sponsoring legislation to fix this unexpected loophole by allowing policy holders to retain their health insurance if they so desire.

Cliff Newell can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 105.




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