Sen. Jeff Merkley visited Lakeview for a public Town Hall meeting on the morning of Tuesday, April 2, at the Memorial Hall in the Lake County Courthouse.
A separate meeting with local public officials and agency leaders preceded the public meeting in the Lake County Commissioners’ hearing room.
Variety reigned supreme for the public meeting, with several topics arising from questions presented by the general audience. The senator opened with a talk on recent and current issues, including the fiscal cliff, debt ceiling and, more recently, sequestration.
Sen. Merkley voiced his opposition and disappointment in the matter of partisan paralysis in the decision-making processes at the federal level.
“We have let animosity and our partisanship… to paralyze the system,” he said, noting productivity has been crippled as a result.
Questions from the audience ranged from student loan debt to veteran employment issues as they pertain to current budgetary struggles and genetically-modified foods to more global issues, such as the U.N. Small Arms Treaty.
Lakeview High School senior Samantha Gallagher asked for the senator’s views on the future of education and related job opportunities. Sen. Merkley noted that, in the big picture, education’s legacy is not in good standing.
“We are on a path in which our kids are going to get less education than we got,” he said, comparing his generation to that of today’s students.
The senator said that educational infrastructure needs to be a higher priority than foreign wars and military bases around the globe in order to assure a strong future. Long-term national security will hinge on the economy, Sen. Merkely said, which is another reason that education needs to be an area of investment.
Regarding programs for students that take on student loan debt to attend college, the senator noted there have been discussions at the Senate that include the expansion of the Pell grant program. At present, one of the biggest issues is creating and preserving 3.5 percent interest loans for student loans, he said, which would reduce payment amounts.
Sen. Merkely commented on the highly-publicized Monsanto rider, which he said appears to be a ban on local laws that could infringe on local genetically-modified plantings. The senator said this resulted from a powerful lobbyist group, but the silver lining is the rider is due to expire as of Sept. 30, and is not a permanent provision.
The senator also said that, to date, there has not been any genetically-modified meat in the U.S., and he said he supports local and state-level input on the issue.