How a Bill Becomes a Job (Sen. Jeff Merkley)

Last time I posted here, Congress was embroiled in a vigorous debate about whether to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Opponents were fighting tooth and nail against the bill deeming certain parts of the package "wasteful spending." One of the programs opponents were calling wasteful was funding to restore forest health and prevent wildfires.

I vehemently disagreed that it was wasteful to improve forest health by clearing out forests that have become overgrown, choked, or diseased because of poor and unnatural forest management practices. This work helps restore eco-systems and wildlife habitat to their natural condition, protects local communities from wildfires and creates jobs. Working with my colleagues in Congress, we kept the wildfire prevention funding in the final legislation.

Now we're able to see the first results of those efforts.

The Forest Service has begun the process of awarding contracts for forest health projects. In Oregon, they've already allocated over $10 million with more to come. The Medford (Ore.) Mail Tribune recently looked at how $3 million of those funds will be used. They found that because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 150 people will be put to work promoting forest health and helping prevent wildfires in Southern Oregon, with some of those people to start work immediately. Many of these jobs are coming to Jackson County, which currently has a 14 percent unemployment rate.

Moreover, the businesses awarded the contracts are upgrading and replacing equipment. One business owner said he'd already purchased six new trucks and "30 chain saws, fire clothes, boots and other supplies" from local stores. That's great news for the store owners who may have been facing falling sales and their own tough choices.

In short, the recovery package is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing: investing in long-neglected projects; creating jobs; and spurring demand in local economies.

Now, 150 new jobs in two counties in Southern Oregon may not sound like a lot, but in small timber towns like the one I was born in, it's a big deal. These are jobs that will help families make ends meet and put food on the table.

And keep in mind that those jobs are the result of just a portion of funds in one part of one state from one program dealing with forest health. If you multiply the effects many times over for the jobs created through other forest health projects, energy conservation programs, improvements at veterans' facilities, mass transit construction, roads work and investments in health and education and you'll see major opportunities for job growth around the country.

Apparently, to the opponents of the recovery act, these jobs are waste. If it were up to them, these jobs would never have come to Oregon and that's a shame.

Now those same opponents are trotting out their same tired arguments again, opposing the President's budget. I'm sure they'll fight against investing in our future by helping spur a green energy economy and providing universal, affordable health care for all Americans. Again they're saying that investments in our future are "wasteful." They're embracing the phony math of the Bush years to try to caricature a bold plan to meet our nation's challenges head-on.

We can't allow these opponents of solutions and reform to set the terms of the debate. We need to take the offensive against the ideology that torpedoed our economy. We need to challenge opponents to justify their opposition to restructuring our energy economy, their opposition to improving health care and education, and their opposition to creating jobs.

The netroots have been great in voicing their support of the economic recovery package as well as putting pressure on Congress to keep important programs in the bill. We have plenty of tough battles coming around the bend on mortgage reform, universal health care, fighting global warming, and - most immediately -- the budget that makes it all possible. We'll need your energy and passion to help set the record straight about these priorities.

No amount of political posturing or rhetoric will stop me from doing whatever I can to promote job-creating programs, both to strengthen working families and to break the vicious vortex destroying our economy. We need to put our nation back on the path of long term, broadly shared economic growth. What matters most to me is doing what I was elected to do: help make life better for Oregonians and making America work for working Americans again. I look forward to partnering with all of you to keep fighting for change.

Cross-post from HuffingtonPost.com.