Merkley swings through valley

With no set theme, the topics covered in Sen. Jeff Merkley’s Sunday afternoon town hall meeting included renewable energy, the housing market,  the war in Afghanistan and the rising cost of higher education.

The hour-long town hall, which took place on the second floor of the Benton County Historical Society and Museum in Philomath, drew a full house. It was Merkley’s 84th town hall since he took office as Oregon’s junior U.S. senator in January 2009.

After introductions from Irene Zenev, executive director of the museum, and Jay Dixon, vice-chair of the Benton County Board of Commissioners, Merkley began the meeting with comments on renewable energy and restarting the housing industry.

He believes promoting “clean, renewable, American-made energy” will not just help the environment but also reduce our national security spending. He explained that every gallon of gasoline has an unofficial $5 tax through national security-related spending needed to import oil from abroad.

Merkley also said an average of 300,000 homes entered foreclosure each month in the last 20 months of the recession and that more than 28,000 Oregon families’ homes entered foreclosure in 2010. He touted his “Paving the Way to a Healthy Housing Market,” a proposal that will streamline loan remodifications and offer permanent tax credits for first-time homebuyers, as a way to keep more homes from entering foreclosure.

Merkley also added that calls to immediately balance the federal budget from right-leaning Washington politicians may be detrimental in the long run.

“If we are going to thrive as a nation, we have to invest in infrastructure and we have to invest in education,” he said.