World issues touch home for Senator Merkley

China, Wall Street and his own community in east Multnomah County: U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., managed to touch on all three during remarks Tuesday in Pendleton.

Merkley, the state’s junior senator, toured the ZeaChem demonstration plant at the Port of Morrow, then stopped at the East Oregonian for a talk with its editors.

China is in a virtual trade war with the United States, Merkley said. He voted in favor of granting President Barack Obama authority to act to correct trade imbalances with China should it continue to keep its currency artificially low. A yuan worth considerably less than the U.S. dollar keeps Chinese imports relatively inexpensive and American exports unreasonably high, he said.

“Then, on top of that, using a state controlled bank to essentially repress interest rates and use the low cost of those funds to do low-cost loans to targeted manufacturing sectors,” he said. “Oregon has felt this directly. We lost 20 paper mills in the last 20 years. We’re also seeing it certainly in the alternative energy sector in the manufacture of wind turbines and solar power. So this became a major issue for me after a bipartisan trip to China earlier this year when I heard American companies describing all of the ways that they were boxed in by the Chinese industrial policy.”

On the bipartisan congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by Thanksgiving:

“One thing that we need to bring into the conversation is every proposal for reducing the deficit needs to be evaluated for its impact either creating or destroying jobs. You take the $20 billion a year that goes to the big five oil companies and they are not investing that money, they are sitting on it. So it’s not creating a single job right now. It was intended to help subsidize exploration but the high prices of energy are doing a fine job of that on their own.”

“You could take half the money, $10 billion a year, to pay down the deficit and take $10 billion and put it to work creating jobs in something such as energy-saving building retrofits. “

On President Obama announcing the last U.S. troops will leave Iraq in December:

“I think it is good. It doesn’t mean that Iraq is going to thrive. What it means is they are going to take responsibility for whether they thrive.

“And they’re going to have to seize this moment and go forward in their fashion and it will be ugly and chaotic, but if we were there three more years it would be ugly and chaotic.”

On his bill in the Senate to keep post offices within 10 miles of another as the Postal Service moves to close some:

“Some colleagues who may come from highly urbanized states who don’t really get it, but far more of us come from states that will get it, do get it. And there’s many ways you can reduce the cost of a post office without shutting it down.

“What I have heard, is you shut this down and we have local businesses that utilize it. They’ll have to relocate because … they have to get out orders, they’re not going to do a daily trip 30 miles away. It’s a waste in our economy. 

“Then you’ve got seniors who get their meds through this. And then you’ve got the function of it as being a hub of communication an social connection within the community.

“I think this is a fight we can win. Maybe that’s a mistake to forecast. But I think more people understand that if you wipe out a post office, you wipe out the heart of a small town. And the post office claimed that they were targeting places where there was another post office within 10 miles, but 34 of the 41 in Oregon do not have another post office within 10 miles.

“I think holding the post office to what they had said was their approach has real legs.”

On the Occupy Wall Street movement:

“The heart of this protest comes out of the frustration over the economy and that is an issue that resonates to me. That we have a working class that since I got out of high school has been essentially flat in terms of their real living wages and over the last 10 years their wages have dropped 7 percent.

“And so I live in a working class community, … I left for 17 years, but I’m in the same community now that I went to high school in. You see people that the only way they can maintain something close to the standard of living their parents had is to inherit their parents house.

“We are becoming the first generation whose kids are getting less education that we got. And that’s exactly the wrong way to go in an international knowledge economy. Those societies that have the investment in education and training are going to be stronger economies in the future than those that don’t.”