Merkley draws full house in Mac

Single-payer health insurance got a major thumbs up from a packed town hall U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley hosted Sunday in McMinnville. Not proving so popular were illegal immigration, AIG and insurance companies.

The tradition was launched in the 1990s, when U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden kept a campaign promise to hold at least one town hall in each of the state’s 36 counties each year. Wyden recently completed his 500th meeting, and Merkley’s predecessor, Gordon Smith, matched him town for town.

Merkley, who toppled Smith in November, hit No. 4 when he visited McMinnville over the weekend. More than 75 residents attended, and it made for a lively hour.

The morning newspapers were reporting that after accepting $170 billion in federal bailout money, the American International Group was planning to spend about $100 million of that on bonuses for executives – the same executives who led them to the brink of ruin, including 11 who’ve already left AIG ranks. That’s the political equivalent, given the public anger at Wall Street, of streaking at a funeral.

“They’ve got the nerve to give million-dollar bonuses from our money?” one man asked, incredulous. “Is there any way it can be stopped?”

“Wall Street, they live in an alternate universe,” Merkley replied. “They live in a universe where over the last decade, they have been allowed to do whatever they wanted. Now we have this huge mess, and this huge culture to change.”

Merkley elaborated on the subject Tuesday. In a press statement, he said the people receiving the bonuses “were the very same ones who trafficked in financial machinations that drove AIG into the ground.” He vowed, “I will do everything I can to make sure these executives are not rewarded for abetting the financial crisis at the very moment thousands of Oregonians are losing their homes, jobs and retirement savings.”