Merkley on recovery

Jeff Merkley, freshman Democratic senator from Oregon, was a big supporter of Barack Obama last fall, and he’s still a fan.

Lately, he’s just been a little concerned.

“Folks in key positions at the top of the Obama financial team are more oriented to Wall Street than families,” Merkley said Wednesday. When the senator started calling for help for slipping mortgage payers as well as bailing out banks, “you got a sense it was not really on the radar of the core team.”

Lately, he’s talked with White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and economic honcho Larry Summers; he’s been added to the Senate banking committee at the request of Chairman Chris Dodd; and he voted to give out the second half of the banking bailout after being promised more mortgage help.

Now, Merkley says there’s “a growing understanding that foreclosure mitigation is essential.”

The problem is that nobody yet knows the of the banking problem.

But we do know it’s getting worse.

Last fall, the federal government put $350 billion into financial companies (and guaranteed a lot more). There was a large gulping sound, but in terms of the system loosening up, there was nothing you could call an encouraging result. As Merkley puts it, “Everything happened except lending.”

Meanwhile, after the worst year in anyone’s memory, Wall Street gave itself $18 billion in bonuses — which President Obama on Thursday called “shameful” — and Citibank, after telling the government it would be needing more, went out and started pricing a new corporate jet.

To Merkley, “Something has gone completely amok with these corporate institutions.”