A Wag of the Finger to Jeff Merkley

Dan Petegorsky

Progressive finger wagger par excellence David Sirota slams Jeff Merkley this evening for his vote to release the remaining $350 million of TARP funds without any new strings attached. In doing so, Merkley parted company with Ron Wyden, even though during his election campaign candidate Merkley spoke strongly in favor of Wyden's original vote opposing the Wall St. bailout.

Rank hypocrisy? A vote of confidence in President-to-be-in-five-days Obama? For Sirota, Merkley "is starting his Senate career epitomizing the worst kinds of images people have of politicians - those who sound like they're for "the folks" at election time, and then who sell out "the folks" once in Washington." How 'bout for you?

Update: The text of Larry Summers' letter to Congress is available here.

Comments

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    I would cut Merkley some slack on this with his being new to the senate a probably a lot of pressure from the established hypocrites, but I really don't hold out that much hope for him. I only voted for him because he was anybody but Smith.

  • Dave Porter (unverified)
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    I see this more a a vote of confidence in President Obama by Senator Merkley than anything else. Obama lobbied for it. Larry Summers, according to the NY Times (here) "promised to use $50 billion to $100 billion for 'a sweeping effort to address the foreclosure crisis.' He promised tough oversight and clear tracking of how the money is used, and new restrictions on executive pay at firms that receive help." I think we need the stimulus. This part will be administered by Obama. That's the difference.

    Why did Wyden vote against it?

  • Robin Ozretich (unverified)
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    I think TARP is an issue on which folks of good will can honestly disagree (or not be sure where they stand, as I can attest).

    I'm glad we have David Sirota, and he's done much good for progressive causes, but when he's made up his mind... well, be prepared to be denounced as a sell-out if you come down on the other side.

    I hope that President Obama uses the TARP money wisely, with the openness and transparency that the Bush administration was so sorely lacking. It's disappointing that TARP happened in the way it did, but I'm hopeful that Obama can bring some good to an unfortunate situation.

    I don't fault Senator Merkely for giving Obama the benefit of the doubt here, and I don't fault Senator Wyden for being more skeptical.

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    Just because the initial billions were mishandled - by a different administration - doesn't mean the second half will end up the same. I have confidence in President Obama AND Senator Merkley.

  • Deceived (unverified)
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    During his campaign, Merkley talked about being on the same side as Wyden, yet he votes opposite of him and cancels out the vote from Oregon...the very same point he made when hammering Smith....so either he was lying or he is already being pushed around by the establishment. i dont know how anyone can position this in any other manner.

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    Robin (and Kari, above) got it right for me. just because Sirota says something doesn't make it gospel. nor Krugman, nor Obama; no one. but at least this gives us a chance to realize what a horrible mistake we made in not sending Gordo back to DC....

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    I don't know what I think about this vote, totally. But on first blush, I think its rather disappointing on Jeff's part. I don't have faith that the money will be overseen wisely and I'm not prepared to offer then benefit of the doubt.

    There's just too much money and too many bad actors in this system right now with their hands out.

    Jeff has earned my support and my vote in lots of other ways and I remain ardently devoted to him as my Senator. But I hope to see better.

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    Hey all -- Some of you may have seen an early draft of a post I'm working on about this. I accidentally published it before I was done working on it... so I've unpublished, and back to editing.

  • Tyrannocaster (unverified)
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    His vote? It sucks. And I gave him money, too, based partly on his "principled stand". You know what? [rest deleted by disgusted Tyrannocaster]

  • (Show?)

    Hey folks --

    Here's Senator Wyden's statement on why he voted against the bailout:

    Last October, I voted against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout because Congress failed to write any meaningful taxpayer protections, didn't have a plausible plan that was likely to re-open our capital markets, and abdicated its responsibility to reform the Wall Street greed that created the crisis in the first place. While I certainly trust President-Elect Obama with these funds more than the Bush administration, what was horrendous policy before the election is horrendous policy after the election. Whether we have a Democrat or Republican in the White House, Congress has a sacred obligation to demand accountability, to write laws with some teeth in them, and to cease being a patsy to the Executive Branch. Compensating -- with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars -- the very investment bankers who took these outrageous credit risks is no way to restore confidence in our markets or the federal government.
  • (Show?)

    Let's get real. How many of you actually know the real status of our banking system and what happens if these funds are not available? While it is true that Bush and crew implemented this poorly, it is also pretty clear that we would be in a bigger mess if we hadn't started bailing when we did. Now we have a more competent crew without the free-market ideology that screwed up the first half. Obama believes that this is critical and not optional. I give him more credence than Sirota. Jeff did the right thing.

  • mp97303 (unverified)
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    "Let's get real. How many of you actually know the real status of our banking system and what happens if these funds are not available?"

    There is an article in NY Mag about how many wallstreeter's were shopping for survival supplies because they thought the entire financial system was 6 hours from total collapse back when this started.

    We say we want to know, but do we really? And if we did, could we handle it?

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    Re: Why did Wyden vote against it?

    1998 Win 61% 2004 Win 63%

    Ron Wyden has won two solid elections, before Obama became a household word if he wants to vote against it, Oregon voters for the most part will probably not care.

    Mr. Merkley on the other hand owes a lot to the president elect (not every US Senate candidate got a commercial out of Obama) and would probably do good to vote with the new president on this one.

  • Not fooled (unverified)
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    Obama believes that this is critical and not optional. I give him more credence than Sirota. Jeff did the right thing.

    And exactly what are the O's credentials as an economist? He didn't even get particularly high marks as a law professor or editor of the law review. What he was good at is letting people talk and BELIEVE he was generally agreeing with them. That's certainly his right. And I for one absolutely give him credit for being better than just about anyone at it.

    There is an article in NY Mag about how many wallstreeter's were shopping for survival supplies because they thought the entire financial system was 6 hours from total collapse back when this started.

    These were the same people that also believed if you take fed a bunch of high-risk mortgage to them on Wall Street, what they crapped out was AAA securities. So there's not much reason to believe anything they say, yet they are the people we are giving all the money to to fix it?

    Some of us are intelligent enough to recognize the

  • Not fooled (unverified)
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    This got cutoff:

    Some of us are intelligent enough to recognize the letter Merkley points to for cover isn't signed by Obama. It's signed by his transition team leader, who basically is just making statements of his own that he knows politicians like Merkley need to hear so they can lie with a straight right now and then later make excuses how they were lied to.

    Summers has no legal authority to make a commitment on the disposition of the funds the Congress has ripped off from working people to give to some of the most corrupt people in the country. And all you women who want to line up to defend Merkley and the O, you might want to educate yourself about what kind of guy Summers proved himself to be at Harvard. He's smart but far from trustworthy.

    Wouldn't have expected anything better from Merkley. He's totally owned and his entire tenure as a Senator will be saying and doing whatever it takes at the moment to get re-elected in 2014.

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    Echo what Dave Porter said.

  • CatNip (unverified)
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    I wish everyone would just sack up and be honest about Jeff Merkley...everyone knows he was a 5th tier, place-filler candidate..who barely scraped by in the primary to a guy who has never held political office in his life...he happened to run in the one year that the DSCC had a ton more cash that NRSC and in a year when a horribly unpopular GOP president was on the way out with a Jesus-like Democratic candidate on the way in..in a state that just registered 200,000 new Democrats this year alone and voted for Obama by a 17 point margin...and Merkley still barely won. He's not Ron Wyden, he's not Kitzhaber..he's not even Kulongoski. Most Oregonians wouldn't trust this guy to mow their lawn in ordinary circumstances..he just happened to be the "D" on the ballot in this apocalyptic year for Republicans...but we all know this dude doesn't belong anywhere near the US senate and he won't be there after this term is up. He was bought, paid for and delivered by the DSCC..he will spend the next 6 years paying them back..and then be replaced by a real Senator...of either party.....but one thing is for sure..Oregonians will not be fooled twice by this jackass...

  • Not fooled (unverified)
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    CatNip has hit the nail on the head with the hammer it requires. Merkley will be an embarrassment. The biggest reason Oregon elects bluish leaning yellow candidates is because the GOP just insists on choosing candidates whose legs are too short to keep their knuckles from dragging on the ground.

    One thing though CatNip. I hope you're not kidding yourself about Wyden. He's as much about only doing what it takes to advance his career as Merkley. Check out who his biggest contributors are and what interests he supports when he actually drafts legislation. Most of his seemingly brave progressive stands, and most notably his anti-war positions, happen because a lot of good Oregonians are just all over him when a vote is nigh. It's a sad joke amongst the politically active folks I know that Wyden's staff will never tell you as an average constituent out here where he is on any controversial issue, even 5 minutes before the vote. EXCEPT, that is, on those matters he knows will obviously pay political benefits to him.

  • David Dickey-Griffith (unverified)
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    Reasonable people can disagree about whether this was the right vote or not, but anyone who thinks Jeff Merkley is going to "sell out" to Wall St needs to have their head checked.

    News flash for you cynical types! Unless one of them has some sort of personal scandal (which seems unlikely) both Wyden and Merkley are going to look pretty safe six years from now, regardless of how they vote on something like this.

    In other words, if you disagree with a particular vote, just say so - and state your reasoning. There's no reason to question someone's motives without just cause.

    (Full Disclosure: I was Jeff's personal assistant for 14 months and may, in fact, know more about the kind of person he is than you do...)

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    Well if "a 5th tier, place-filler" is what it takes to do what hadn't been done in 40 years - unseat an incumbant - then I say bring on the 5th tier place-fillers while the apparent conventional wisdom is so incredibly disconnected from the real world!

    By any definition what Merkley accomplished was exceptional. Qualify it however you like, but the fact will still remain that he did what hadn't been done in 40 years. Not Wyden or Kulongoski or Kitzhaber has done that.

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    Don't poke the trolls. They're just poor unemployed Gordon Smith staffers who don't know why their guy lost.

  • peter c (unverified)
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    so, so dissapointing in the worst way. i praised merkley and believed he was speaking in good faith when he (after some nudging) spoke out strongly against the bailout.

    best case scenario is that merkley only made this horrible vote because he owed obama big time, and now he's payed him off. that doesn't make it right, or even ok.

  • bradley (unverified)
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    I don't agree with Merkley's vote, but maybe we should give him the benefit of the doubt. He had high level conversations that led him to believe that homeowners facing foreclosure would finally get some help from the bailout. I hope he is right.

    I don't believe he voted this way just because he owed Obama, and I certainly don't think he was a 5th-tier candidate. Anyone who can knock off a guy like Smith who enjoyed enormous Democratic support has some serious skills.

    Merkley will be a great Senator, IMHO. I just think this was an unfortunate first vote to split form Wyden. People were destined to make a big deal of their first split vote, but this one certainly carries no shortage of irony.

  • Jiang (unverified)
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    I think both votes make sense. One is based on risk reduction and the other is based on politics. I don't mean that to sound negative, they're just different realities. Obviously, compared to Carter's not trying to handle the politics and Clinton's not initially handling them well, it's totally understandable that someone try to do so. The other argument is well supported by the British experience. They payed far more, per capita, for their bail-out, and the abuses of it by the high-street banks has been truly appalling.

    I guess I would mention that the last bit soon becomes the political bit. My only problem with Merkley's position is that he's asking corporate America to do the right thing. I would feel better if he would ask more explicitly and will feel better if he rides heard on correcting any abuses.

  • maryBeth (unverified)
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    Leadership lackey?

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    There seems to be the assumption among the critics of Senator Merkley's vote that Barack Obama is going to continue the exact same policies as George W. Bush. That he's going to just give away this cash, willy nilly, to high rolling GOP political donors.

    All I ask is, what's next? When Barack Obama asks for some authority or money to clean up Bush's attacks on the environment, are all you going to be screaming "No! No! A President should never be given such authority"?

    I mean, I do forgive Senator Wyden about this: he made such a big deal originally (and rightfully so given Bush's record), he's probably stuck politically. I even understand the GOP-troll motivations, trying desperately to pretend that they're not just angry because their corrupt political gravy-train has come to an end: they may be evil, but at least they're not stupid. But what's the excuse progressives have for trying to tie the hands of President Obama? (Other than sheer stupidity, I mean.)

    Please recognize that this 350 billion dollars (if the GOP sticks to its filibuster threat), may be the only way the US Auto manufacturers - and auto Unions - get saved, since the President can use the money for anything.

  • Dan Petegorsky (unverified)
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    There seems to be the assumption among the critics of Senator Merkley's vote that Barack Obama is going to continue the exact same policies as George W. Bush. That he's going to just give away this cash, willy nilly, to high rolling GOP political donors.

    Steve - I think the parallel announcement yesterday of the size and shape of Obama's stimulus plan is evidence that, at least on that front, the policies will be substantially different. With TARP, however, it's not so clear. Consider:

    Within hours, if not minutes, of the Senate vote, Treasury was essentially forced to nearly double down on its $25 billion investment in Bank of America. So it's very likely that a big chunk of the new funds will similarly go to further bailing out institutions that have already received funds but continue to falter - thus continuing the Bush Administration investments.

    That he's going to just give away this cash, willy nilly, to high rolling GOP political donors.

    You're right - but only because the financial services and hedge fund sectors have become primarily Democratic Party donors in recent years, and that sector is as or more solidly planted within the Obama Administration as they were in the Bush Administration. And wasn't it only last week that Robert Rubin, the guru for several of Obama's highest level economic team appointees, resigned in disgrace from Citigroup?

    I'm just saying, the Democrats in this case have a miserable a record of oversight, so at least on this issue I'm not inclined to cut anyone much slack - though I do agree with the comments above re. the political factors influencing this vote (which I would imagine have as much to do with his DSCC benefactor Chuck Schumer as Obama himself).

  • Not fooled (unverified)
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    Kari, nothing could be further from the truth:

    Don't poke the trolls. They're just poor unemployed Gordon Smith staffers who don't know why their guy lost.

    And you know the Merkley apologists are desperate when they start labeling those who have the truth and honesty on their side as "trolls".

    Candidate Merkley on 10/1/2008 when he saw political advantage in parroting Wyden:

    "I have dedicated much of my life to advocating for consumers and I believe it is just wrong to spend $700 billion of taxpayer money to bailout the very Wall Street financiers who created this crisis"

    The lesser Senator from the Ministry of Truth in Oregon now:

    "I have roundly criticized the first $350 billion ... because it didn't attack the challenge of families facing foreclosure,''

    No, he attacked the very essence and premise of the full $700 billion bailout, not just the first $350 billion as he is re-writing history here. None of the vague promises in Summer's letter, not signed by the O, contradict the essence of the $700b billion vote. The financiers who gave us this crises are still going to make out quite nicely because, in the end, the argument in Summer's letter is that we have to play nice with them to get a little trickle down to working people.

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    No, he attacked the very essence and premise of the full $700 billion bailout, not just the first $350 billion as he is re-writing history here.

    I don't like Jeff's vote here and have said so, but this comment smacks of misleading to me. I have never believed that Merkley was against the essence and premise of the full bailout on principle. I think he was against handing the financial industry a no-oversight pile of cash that had no relief for consumers.

    Those seem like two fundamentally different things to me.

    I'm not crazy about this vote because I don't think Obama can conduct the kind of oversight necessary to see this thing doesn't end up a free for all. Merkley does. We'll see who is right.

  • Wait (unverified)
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    Carla, is this belief due to conversations you have had with him. Your insight would help. Otherwise, his very own website says differently that what you are asserting.

    http://www.jeffmerkley.com/2008/10/merkley_stateme_7.php

  • Dan Petegorsky (unverified)
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    I don't think Obama can conduct the kind of oversight necessary to see this thing doesn't end up a free for all.

    And let's note in that vein that Geithner's appointment is at least temporarily stalled so that for now that leaves Treasury in the hands of Bush Under Secretary Stuart Levey.

    So as we're seeing yet another wave of dire reports about institutions Treasury is already committed to bailing out, it's far from clear that a new Obama team is in place to change the terms on which the money's been going out the door already, especially under tight pressure. And, as other stories have shown just this week, those terms definitely need changing.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)
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    Let's get real. How many of you actually know the real status of our banking system and what happens if these funds are not available? While it is true that Bush and crew implemented this poorly, it is also pretty clear that we would be in a bigger mess if we hadn't started bailing when we did. Now we have a more competent crew without the free-market ideology that screwed up the first half.

    Indeed, let's get real. "Bush's crew" - essentially Paulson and Bernanke - wrote up a brief letter setting up the bail out. Congress held committee hearings under the chairmanships of Democrats Senator Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank who excluded anyone likely to criticize what "Bush's crew" was proposing. Dodd and Frank were aided and abetted by other Democrats and Republicans doing what they were expected to do in exchange for the campaign donations they received. In other words, they were in on the fix.

    Obama took bundles from Wall Street, so anyone with a lick of sense would at least be skeptical of what position he takes in favor of the bailout. And that goes in spades when we consider three of the fixers for deregulation on Wall Street - Rubin, Summers and Geithner - are key players in Obama's economic team.

    I hope that President Obama uses the TARP money wisely, with the openness and transparency that the Bush administration was so sorely lacking. It's disappointing that TARP happened in the way it did, but I'm hopeful that Obama can bring some good to an unfortunate situation.

    Jeff has earned my support and my vote in lots of other ways and I remain ardently devoted to him as my Senator. But I hope to see better.

    Hope springs eternal on Blue Oregon. More and more that appears all an Obama administration will have to offer.

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    I think both senators voted consistently for them. Wyden voted against the first bailout and consistently voted against the second. Merkley advocates for housing opportunities and he apparently felt assured that foreclosure relief would be a part of this second bailout. His vote, with assurances that 50 to 100 billion will be allocated for foreclosure relief, is also consistent. The fact each viewed the same bill differently is philosophical, rather than entirely political, in my view.

  • J kilvik (unverified)
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    Just what we need, another wink tinkler in the Senate who can't keep his word or thinks hypocrisy is a positive character trait.

  • Gregor (unverified)
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    Carl Fisher, I agree with what you state. Merkely owes Obama a favor or two. This was a big one. Makes me believe there are many fewer favors due since this is so significant.

    As for the rest of the noise on this blog, 90% of it is conjecture about what will happen. Merkely voted with the PE and payed Obama back in a small way. BO bloggers in large part are reminding him to be true to his promise to be more cooperative with Ron Wyden. So in the realm of political capital, we urge him to be less party-line and more retrospective. Wyden appears to hold the higher ground. Accountability is required regardless of who is President. And Merkely is now being held accountable. All in all, I do not believe his vote was a serious betrayal. The votes were there anyway, and there is more work to be done to stimulate this lame economy.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)
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    Merkley is a typical Democrat, no better and no worse. Is he better than Smith? Less evil and/or less insane? I don't know.

    One thing's for sure, he's present, and therefore he's a progressive, at least by BO standards.

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    The Senate action was just a place holder, awaiting the strings to be attached by the House. Both of our senators were right to vote the way they did -- because neither made any substantive difference.

    Once the revised "motion of disapproval" gets back to the Senate, I expect both Wyden and Merkley and the rest of the Ds to vote for it. The Bush crime family gave the first $350 BILLION away -- stole it as far as I'm concerned -- and the Senate vote on the motion should have gotten the narrow margin it got -- merely as a demonstration of anger and frustration at Bush and that bunch of crooks at Treasury.

    Now as far as the crooks in the financial institutions, Congress needs to authorize economic stimulus money for construction of a huge prison for them. In fact, I can't think of a better way to spend money than that.

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    Things seem to be working OK. Not sure what happened there.

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    Well, maybe not. I'm investigating.

  • guestopinion (unverified)
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    Seantor Merkley ulitimately sided with the middle class with his vote. He also gave Obama the benefit of the doubt. The Senator is a workhorse known for doing excruciating detailed work. If the Senator gets burned than we will all learn something about the incoming new president. Courageous vote.

  • Larry McD (unverified)
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    I agree with those of the B.O. community who feel that we should give Senator Merkley the benefit of the doubt. This is, after all, a man who stood up and expressed his disappointment in Holy Joe Leiberman's behavior in the election but was willing to vote for him keeping both his important chairmanships... of course, that was before he found out that Joe gave Smith $5K.

    Oh, well. Let's keep giving the Senator the benefit of the doubt until we, uh, have to vote for a Republican to a Senator who tells us what he's going to do rather than what he "believes in."

  • John English (unverified)
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    I am so disgusted at congress for raking auto workers over the coals and erroneously reporting that they make $70,000 a year (they took the liberty of averaging out all wages/benefits, including retiree health care, when in fact the average worker salary is $38,000, the national median personal income).

    What about banker/finance salaries and benefits? What about the massive gap between CEO/executive salaries and workers salaries? Why doesn't the dEMOCRTATIC (notive little d) congress make an issue of that?

    I voted with reluctance for Merkley over Novick, but am already beginning to regret it. I hope he doesn't join the corporate whore Wyden, who I would love to see Novick challenge next year.

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    Not being an economist I listen to those who are, and the majority of those support stimulating the economy with deficit-spending investment. Where I disagree with the executive branch is in its trying to get control over the spending without Congressional oversight. I expected this from W. & Dick Cheney, but it was disappointing to see Obama stake so much on continuing the stimulus without simultaneously asking Congress to increase its own oversight role. Obama put the senate in a bad spot of having the potential to stop his momentum before he even takes office by giving them this no win choice. Not a good display of political instincts IMHO. Hopefully the recent Newsweek cover "What Would Dick Do?", which posits that Obama will likely follow Cheney's push to expand executive power, will not prove to be prophetic.

    When it comes to blame in the senate, the Democratic leadership should have quietly told Obama in private that he shouldn't expect money for anything without congressional oversight, but of course that would require Reid to think more than one move ahead on a policy issue. As a freshman, Merkley gets a pass from me this time, but he needs to remember Congress is the first branch. And he should support senate leadership that protects the prerogatives of the legislative branch, even against our own president.

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)
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    Ever posit that maybe the trolls are "told ya so progressive dems" that resent the fact that JM got $300K from Wall Street water boy and DSCC head honcho Chuck Schumer while Steve N. got nada ziltch nothing during the primary? Talk about "Big Rotten Apple" payola...

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    Larry McD: [Merkley] is, after all, a man who stood up and expressed his disappointment in Holy Joe Leiberman's behavior in the election but was willing to vote for him keeping both his important chairmanships...

    You are quite mistaken, Larry. Merkley spoke against Senator Lieberman in the caucus meeting. And although the vote was secret (and Senator Merkley is abiding by that decision), there is absolutely no evidence that he voted for Senator Lieberman.

    To paraphrase the immortal words of Senator Moynihan, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Please update your post accordingly.

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)
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    Voting in secret cuts both ways SM... I 'spose one could say that there is no evidence that JM voted against the Nutmeg State Senator either. Nothing like hiding behind a secret vote to show that you are a principled, stand-up-for-all-to-see kind of guy when it comes to Joe's chaimanship is there???

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    That wasn't Merkley's decision. Hell, he stuck his neck out far enough as it was, being a freshman and saying the things he did publicly during the caucus meeting. It's only the true nutcases who pretend that he secretly voted against what he took some political hits to make a stand on.

    But really, there really is no satisfying the frothing-at-the-mouth Portland left. By now, uou all probably would have turned on Steve Novick too, for showing any hint of an ability to actually get things done in Washington.

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    Larry's right, Steve's wrong. All of the evidence, including statements by him and his spokespeople, indicates that he spoke against but voted for.

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)
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    Hey, look I'm a compassionate insect...I made over 700 calls for JM and I'm thrilled to have him as my Senator. But I have expectations and the DP of O shouldn't forget that the U.S. and Oregon are different places now.

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