Merkley talks health care, budget during Medford stop

Hopes for health-care reform ran high among a
crowd that gathered Tuesday afternoon for a town-hall meeting with Sen.
Jeff Merkley at the RCC/SOU Higher Education Center in downtown Medford.

from Health Care for America Now! passed out stickers to the roughly
100 people who came to meet Oregon’s newest senator and share their
concerns with him.

Neuberger, a Southern Oregon organizer for the group with active
chapters in 43 states, said the current health- care system — with
spiraling costs and mediocre results — is unsuccessful.

need a serious discussion,” he said. “And we want, at the end of the
debate, for everyone to have quality, affordable health care.”

Mentions of “a public option” garnered applause and audience members voiced support for a single-payer system.

said that although some preliminary proposals include more publicly
funded health care, support for such plans will be hard to find,
especially in the face of opposition from insurance and pharmaceutical

Reform should focus on increasing
preventive care and disease management, adding more community clinics
to improve access to care, and enabling the government to negotiate
with drug companies to cut Medicare prescription costs, Merkley said.

Bannerman, an Applegate resident whose husband is now serving his
second tour in Iraq, asked Merkley to press for a hearing on military
family issues before the Armed Services Committee.

officials have linked suicides among soldiers and veterans to
relationship issues, they haven’t yet stepped up to help heal those
relationships with the family left behind during deployments, she said.

got a crisis going on with military families,” Bannerman said, pointing
out that spouses and children also need counseling or other help to
deal with the stress.

Others in the audience
asked Merkley to track prison reform efforts, learn more about the
so-called “notch” in Social Security benefits that results in people
born between 1917 and 1926 getting lower benefits because of an error
in calculating cost of living in the 1970s, and guard against the
federal government gaining added control over water resources to the
detriment of landowners in a Clean Water Restoration Act now being
considered in the Senate.

Ashland resident
Susan Berryhill asked why the change voters had hoped for in the
election that brought Merkley, along with President Barack Obama, to
office seemed slow in coming.

administration has to spend 90 percent of its energy on fixing some
serious problem left by the last, but we are making progress,” he said,
noting that the Senate has built some bipartisan support on slim
margins in order to be a partner in change.

reeled off a list of accomplishments, including the passage of a new
wilderness bill, pay equity law, and improved children’s health care,
as well as serious debate on health care, global warming and decreasing
combat roles in Iraq for the U.S. military.

After the forum, Berryhill said she was encouraged by Merkley’s answer.

“It’s nice to hear what is being accomplished,” she said, noting that Merkley also was a good listener.

feel like I can keep needling him,” she said, adding that his committee
assignments — banking, health care and the environment — match her

Merkley touted the recently
enacted credit card reform, which he supported, and called for a
consumer protection agency to monitor financial services. He also
advocated regulatory changes that would help banks provide credit in a
sound manner but keep them out of the get-rich-quick schemes that has
brought the economy to its knees.

“We need to make banking boring again,” he said.

an audience member pointed out that many of the problems brought up at
the meeting seemed to come from too much special interest money in the
political system, Merkley pointed out that the Supreme Court has
determined that such spending is protected free speech. Attempts to
regulate candidate spending only pushed the money to other
organizations that were less accountable.

He promised to ask Supreme Court nominees about the issue, but said he didn’t expect to get an answer.

not a lawyer so sometimes that feels like a permission slip to ask
common-sense questions,” Merkley said, noting that a robust discussion
of the money trail in politics likely would happen eventually.