At U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley’s town hall at Clatsop Community
College on Saturday afternoon, topics ranged from the polarization between
political parties to health care to the potential removal of Snake River dams.
Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, holds town halls in each of
Oregon’s 36 counties every year. Dozens of people, including a number of
elected officials in the county, attended the event at Patriot Hall in Astoria.
“There’s a lot that’s been going on the last few years. It’s
been a pretty tough time for America. It’s complicated — maybe more complicated
(with) challenges we have in our schools, in our health care system, our
housing shortage. So we have a lot of work to do,” Merkley said. “ … This is a
chance to hear from all of you directly.”
Finn Corcoran, a Knappa student, asked about the divisions
between political parties and if Merkley is hopeful for compromise.
“I do feel we have to
do a whole lot of reaching out because the chasm got so much larger during my
lifetime and the division is so much clearer,” Merkley said, adding that social
media has accentuated the problem of polarization.
Merkley believes his efforts to reform the filibuster can
The requirement of 60 of 100 votes to close debate on most
topics in the Senate “means either side can paralyze the other side’s policy
bills and they do,” he said. The senator has pushed for a “talking filibuster,”
which would require senators looking to obstruct legislation to continually
speak on the floor in order to block a bill.
“It incentivizes compromise because it takes effort,”
Merkley said. “Right now, the system incentivizes paralysis with each side
stopping the other. That is the place I am really focused on.”
Another question came from a doctor who favored a
single-payer, universal health care system.
Merkley noted he was a sponsor of Medicare for All
legislation and helped lead the Choose Medicare Act, which would create a new
Medicare plan available to people of all ages that would expand on the
structure of the Affordable Care Act.
“The complexity of our health care system is just
astounding,” he said. “It isn’t one system, it’s about five systems and you
just keep worrying about how do you handle the next piece of it.”
Merkley also expressed dissatisfaction with the high cost of
“For the nation that puts the most into the research and development
out of our tax dollars, we should get the very best price in the developed
world, not the very worst price,” he said.
Judith Huck, an Astoria resident, brought up the debate over
the potential removal of Snake River dams.
“Taking down some of the Snake River dams would benefit our
community by helping revive the endangered salmon runs,” Huck said. “… There is
momentum now to get this done. Will you sponsor removal of the dams to help our
salmon and our community?”
Merkley called the issue complicated and pointed to a number
of substantial challenges to remove dams.
“I am very open to continuing to take feedback and study
this issue, but it is a mega challenge,” he said.
Questions about taxes, fentanyl, the Hispanic community and
the lack of volunteers were also brought up at the town hall.
While he did not get asked about it, Merkley, in his closing
statements, mentioned the issue of affordable housing. The senator, who called
the topic a “massive issue” and “near and dear” to his heart, previously ran
Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit that seeks to help lower-income families
achieve home ownership.
“I believe in that Habitat (for Humanity) phrase, which is,
‘A decent home and a decent community for every family,’” he said. “Shouldn’t
we be able to accomplish that in America?”
Merkley also pointed to the county’s high rate of
homelessness, which ranks among the top per capita across counties in Oregon.
“This is not just a metro, big city problem,” he said. “It’s
a problem throughout our state and it requires much larger investments than
what we have made in affordability of homes.
“So a decent home, a decent community, a decent state, a
decent nation, a decent planet. Let’s solve a lot of problems working