‘Financial cliff’ main concern for Congress
By Randy Parks
Although there may be no easy answers to some of the issues America is facing these days, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley paid a visit to Burns on Aug. 30 to listen to Harney County residents’ concerns.
Merkley stated that the main issue in Washington, D.C., at this time is the “financial cliff” that the economy is headed for at the end of the year. What’s driving the economy toward that cliff is the expiration of tax cuts as well as the disparity between revenue and expenditures. Merkley noted that the country’s current revenue is about 14 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) while expenditures are running at about 21 percent. “We need to close that gap,” Merkley stated.
He added that part of the problem is the inability of the two major parties to work together. “We need to have a bi-partisan discussion on what our options are before the end of the year,” Merkley said.
Another huge issue for Congress is the fires in the West this year. Merkley explained that the cost of fighting the fires is going to come out of the U.S. Forest Service budget, which would drastically affect their budget plans. He is currently trying to have the funds come from emergency funds instead to allow the Forest Service to operate as planned.
The fires have also caused issues directly related to ranching, such as lost forage on both private and public lands, that Merkley is working on.
Questions from the audience ranged from the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to the clean-up of the Hanford Site, from the war in Afghanistan to world trade agreements.
Merkley stated adjustments need to be made to NCLB, including the testing component, as teachers were teaching to the test scores to meet requirements. He said they couldn’t just throw NCLB out because there’s no replacement, but they do need to work on it.
In a show of hands, the audience visibly favored bringing troops home from Afghanistan, and Merkley said that was the sentiment of most Oregon residents that he had visited with. He said the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan aren’t working, the deadline to bring troops home had been moved up to the end of 2013 from 2014 and he is working on getting more support and jobs for veterans when they return home.
As for the Hanford Site, billions of dollars have been spent on the clean-up, but there have been multiple failures. “There are many different types of radioactive waste, and we don’t know what the answers are, but I am trying to keep the effort funded,” Merkley said.
Merkley was asked about the Supreme Court finding in the Citizens United case that essentially stated unlimited spending doesn’t have harmful effects on the political process. “The first three words of the constitution are ‘We the people’ and that changes it to ‘We the power,’” he said. He also felt that political donors of more than $10,000 need to be identified, but a bill that would require that failed to pass.
Merkley stated the U.S. has lost millions of jobs to China over the last decade because they’re not “playing on an even field.” China has established low currency values and pays huge subsidies, which are illegal under World Trade Organization laws. “We’ve lost millions of jobs, and we have to grapple with being on the losing end of this,” Merkley said. “Somehow we have to level the playing field.”
To address the housing crisis, Merkley has prepared the “Rebuilding American Homeownership” plan, and he has also developed a blueprint for reducing oil usage called “America Over a Barrel.”
In closing, Merkley thanked the crowd of 40 or so people that showed up and stated, “It’s valuable to me to hear from people around the state.”