Jeff Merkley at Dallas town hall/Stapilus
U.S. senators are under pressure - that's part of the job - and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a year into the role, felt it from at least two directions in the last 24 hours, as this is written. From the left, Friday night; from the right, midday at Dallas. As hot as the economy is, topic A seems to be, still, health care and the legislation in Congress.
Friday night was an event organized by Merkley staff for a meet-up with bloggers; eight or nine bloggers (your scribe for one, a few from Blue Oregon, a frequent writer for the Huffington Post and others) met at Madison's in southeast Portland to . . . converse, really, informally. It was an on-the-record session, but informal enough as to not resemble a press conference with formal statements. Blue Oregon blogger T.A. Barnhart has delivered a good rundown on what was said and the overall tenor. (A good event, and we'd hope it becomes the first of many.)
The key subject, out of a wide range discussed, remains health care, and where the current legislation goes from here. The bloggers generally were dissatisfied with what has been done in Congress, with the watering-downs and scale-backs in the bill, and some were convinced the bill was better off dead. Merkley generally agreed with them on the policy questions, but argued that enough good remains, and the effect of a defeat would be so paralyzing, that pressing forward was the way to go.
Cut to the civic center at Dallas, for Merkley's Polk County town hall meeting. (Like fellow Senator Ron Wyden, Merkley has committed to a town hall in every county, every year, and so far is on track.) There, he had to pivot a bit in managing the audience - maybe a little over a third of it was strongly against the bills, ready to believe the worst about it from any scrap of information and quick to denounce it as a government takeover of health care (though just about anything that could amount to such has been long since stripped out). His stance on the issues was unchanged, though, from the night before.
A year ago, Merkley still sounded a little wonkish in talking about legislation, but he's since gotten the knack of handling a town hall, explaining and proposing in plain and simple language. He broke down the health bills as including mainly what amounts to a patient's bill of rights, and a plan to foster competition among and access to a range of insurers.
Asked about special deals for specific states demanded by individual senators (Ben Nelson for Nebraska, for example), Merkley denounced the practice, and also said he agreed that the process should be more open. He actually drew some applause from some of the health care critics for some of those statements - "The idea of special deals for one state is wrong," for example. (more…)