Merkley voices constituents’ concerns over shaky economy

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley met with the Gazette-Times editorial board Wednesday morning to discuss the economy, health care, education and Afghanistan. (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

The uncertain fate of rural post offices, ways to bolster the nation's flagging economy and the partisan gridlock in Washington D.C. were among the topics U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley touched on during an hour-long meeting Wednesday with the Gazette-Times' editorial board.

The meeting came on the heels of a town hall meeting Merkley held Tuesday night at the American Legion Hall in Monroe, the 109th town hall meeting the Oregon Democrat has held in the state since he was elected to the Senate in 2008.

Merkley said economic issues and jobs were uppermost on the minds of participants at the Monroe meeting.

"People are extremely worried," Merkley said. Despite slight increases lately in job creation, he said, blue-collar wages have been stagnant for 40 years. In the last 10 years, he said, the United States has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs.

"I think we have to wrestle with why this economy isn't working," Merkley said.

On the post office issue, Merkley said he already has seen some success in his fight to keep some rural post offices in the state from closing.

The U.S. Postal Service announced last month that 20 of the 41 post offices that had been short-listed for potential closure in Oregon would remain open, at least until May. Local post offices still on the chopping block include Cascadia in Linn County, Eddyville in Lincoln County and Idanha in Marion County.

Merkley vowed to fight "tooth and nail" to keep them open, including the post office in Cascadia, which burned to the ground in November. The cost of replacing the office is estimated at $50,000.

On other topics, Merkley:

• Said he supports increasing production of domestic oil and renewable energy sources. He advocates a "use it or lose it" leasing policy in the Gulf of Mexico to prevent larger companies from sitting on leases for the sole purpose of keeping smaller competitors from drilling. Although he has reservations about traditional large nuclear power plants, Merkley supports smaller-scale nuclear reactors - such as the ones under development by NuScale Power of Corvallis - as potentially more safe, sustainable and affordable. But he said he opposes the controversial Keystone Pipeline System, which would transport synthetic crude oil from the Athabasca Oil Sands in Canada to various destinations in the United States, because of its potential to worsen global warming.

• Said he believes the United States needs to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan before the late 2014 deadline set by President Obama. He said the U.S. effort at "nation-building" in Afghanistan is likely to fail, in part because of pervasive corruption throughout the Afghan government.

• Said that, despite the partisan gridlock that has gripped Congress, he still believes bipartisan progress is possible on some issues. "You have to keep trying; keep working to find every partnership you can," he said. "There are moments when you will succeed."

Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or gail.cole@gazettetimes.com

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