Merkley vows to work on jobs

MAUPIN — Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley said his three proposed energy efficiency programs will help create jobs in Wasco County if he is able to insert them into upcoming federal jobs legislation.

“When I took office last year, the unemployment rate was going up by 1 percent a month,” Merkley told a crowd of about 30 adults and 25 students at South Wasco County High School. “My immediate goal was to arrest that.”

Energy efficiency programs – such as low-cost loans to retrofit homes or businesses with double pane windows — would create jobs for people who fabricate the equipment, for installers and for salespeople.

“Unemployment has leveled off a bit, but it’s still in double digits, and there’s still a lot of work to be done,” Merkley said. “Jobs creation is our number one priority.”

Employment was one of about a half-dozen topics touched on by Merkley at his town hall meeting Thursday — number 52 on Merkley’s second annual tour of Oregon’s 36 counties since taking office in January 2009.

“I’m really thankful to see him here,” said Silas Lewis of Maupin. “I’m not sure how many towns under 500 [population] get a U.S. Senator to visit.”

Chuck Heller of Maupin told Merkley that the nation’s healthcare tab could get a boost if the government put a surcharge on big ticket events like NASCAR races – and then earmarked the surcharge to subsidize health insurance for low income families.

“I think we should have a tiered cost for healthcare,” Heller said. “We already buy things like gas and milk on a tiered cost – why not for healthcare?”

Merkley said he supports pooling health care insurance options into one “market exchange” system where people can pick and choose among the different services and providers. He also supports tax credits for small businesses who buy employees’ health insurance.

“We can’t continue a policy where the cost of health insurance doubles every seven years,” Merkley said.

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