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Oregon’s congressional delegation reacts to State of the Union along party lines

Oregon has eight congressional members, and four reacted to President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address, including both U.S. senators. 

Their comments, which came soon after the end of the nearly 75-minute speech, followed party lines.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Reps. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a Republican, and Democrat Andrea Salinas released statements, while Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley held an online news conference.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley

Merkley said Biden got the tone and substance right.

“Twelve million jobs added over two years; 800,000 manufacturing jobs are making things in America, again. Our deficit (is) way down from where it was 24 months ago. And then he proceeded to lay out a strong vision for how we go forward from here, implementing the infrastructure bill, implementing our Inflation Reduction Act, proceeding to take on the vision of greater equality and opportunity across America,” Merkley said.

In response to a question, Merkley said the speech marked the start of a presidential election campaign.

“When he framed this as ‘finish the job,’ he was laying out, really, the amazing amount of things that we accomplished over the last two years,” Merkley said. “And it sets the stage for how we go forward from here.”

Merkley also addressed the gridlock in Congress over the debt ceiling, which Biden discussed at length during his speech.

“We should argue over revenues,” Merkley said. “We should argue over spending. We should never argue over paying the bill and putting our credit at risk.”

He added: “The last time that happened, the stock market crashed, interest rates went up, our credit rating was devalued. And it hurt everyone.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden

Wyden, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee, echoed Biden’s categorization of the U.S. tax system as unfair.

“There’s one set of rules that applies to people like nurses and firefighters who work for a living, and there’s another set of rules that lets billionaires pay what they want and when they want. It’s long past time to fix that unfairness, and I’m going to continue fighting to get it done,” Wyden said.

Wyden also called for Republicans and Democrats to work together: “Even though we’re in a divided Congress, members ought to be working together to keep our growing economy on track, but House Republicans aren’t interested in that at all.”

He said Republican objections to raising the debt ceiling could cause a “catastrophic default.” 

“Everybody understands that a divided Congress will bring tough policy debates, but this kind of hostage taking that could destroy millions of jobs and trigger a serious recession is unacceptable,” Wyden said. “This crisis is entirely manufactured, and Republicans who voted for clean debt ceiling increases under Donald Trump are opposing one now.”

Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer

Chavez-DeRemer, who represents Oregon’s 5th Congressional District and is one of Oregon’s two Republicans in Congress, called the speech a “mixed bag.”

“I agree that certain policies, like the bipartisan infrastructure law, were necessary investments that will continue to pay off,” Chavez-DeRemer said in a statement. “But others ended up doing more harm than good – like the $1.9 trillion spending bill in early 2021 that sparked 40-year high inflation and the massive interest rate hikes we’re dealing with today. Despite the rosy economic picture the president painted, our labor force participation rate is at its lowest point in decades and real wages haven’t kept up with inflation.

She said he failed in his speech to address some issues of importance for her district.

“Oregon ranks worst in the nation for drug problems. Portland just saw its deadliest year in history, with over 100 homicides. There were at least 18,000 homeless people living on the streets every day last year. And these issues are causing businesses to leave Oregon – Portland’s commercial vacancy rate is 26 percent, which is even higher than Seattle or San Francisco. Yet plans to truly address fentanyl and border security, crime, homelessness, and unfavorable economic conditions were noticeably lacking from his speech.”

She accused Biden of  “fearmongering about cutting Medicare and Social Security. Let me be clear: I do not and will not support cuts to these programs.”

Rep. Andrea Salinas

Salinas, who represents the 6th Congressional District, said Biden’s second State of the Union follows one of the worst crises in history: the pandemic.

“But, as President Biden pointed out tonight, we are on track to emerge from this unprecedented challenge stronger than ever before,” Salinas said in a statement. “Unemployment is the lowest it’s been since 1969. Historic job creation is giving new opportunity to millions of Americans. Domestic manufacturing is rising across the U.S. and at home in Oregon, thanks in part to the CHIPS and Science Act. And our investment in clean energy reached historic new heights with last year’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which will bring $1.2 billion to Oregon alone.

 She called for building a better Oregon and America: “We need to uphold our commitment to seniors by protecting Medicare and Social Security. We need to fight tooth and nail to bring down the high cost of living. And we need to make strides in addressing the ongoing mental health crisis that’s contributing to myriad other challenges, from homelessness to addiction. The tasks before us are as important as they are immense. But I know that, when we come together – not as partisans, but as Americans – nothing is beyond our reach.”

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