Merkley: ‘Plenty of work to do’ left on health care

In the wake of Congressional Republicans’ abrupt cancellation of their Affordable Care Act replacement, Sen. Jeff Merkley said he was relieved to see politicians come to their senses on a bill he disagreed with, but said he intends to work to improve the current system.

Merkley said he is still very concerned about areas where health care exchanges are down to one option, costs of prescription drugs and high insurance deductibles.

“I think we still have plenty of work to do to make the system work better,” Merkley said.

When asked whether he anticipates more Republican efforts to reach across the aisle in regards to health care, Merkley said he would “sure hope so.”

“It takes bipartisan partnership to do so,” Merkley said. “Maybe there’s a window of opportunity there.”

Merkley said he was surprised to see Paul Ryan call off the vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, often called “Obamacare,” something Republican politicians had been promising since the bill’s passage seven years ago.

“It was a big surprise that it happened that quickly,” Merkley said.

He attributed part of the success to grassroots movements and marches across the country. Anxiety over health care coverage and costs drove people out in large numbers.

“That really turned people out, and that sent a strong message,” Merkley said.

A more immediate concern for Merkley is the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court, which Merkley said could be on the floor as early as next week. He called the nomination process being delayed more than a year unprecedented, and something that will impact the legitimacy of 5-4 rulings in the future.

“This sets up a precedent that’ll haunt every decision,” Merkley said.

When asked about the nomination at the town hall meeting in Medford Saturday, Merkley said he planned to filibuster Gorsuch.

Merkley touched on the disruptive role Russia played in the 2016 election, calling it an “act of war” that didn’t attack the United States’ infrastructure, but something more sinister.

“They were trying to destroy our democracy,” Merkley said. “We absolutely must put Russia on ice.”

Further, he said the country must “get to the bottom” of the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia.

Merkley also spoke about the president’s proposed budget, which he called a “huge assault on rural America.” He said programs ranging from air service, rail infrastructure and community development block grants “could be in huge trouble.”

“You read it and it’s not America First; it’s Rural America Last,” Merkley said.