Sen. Jeff Merkley speaks to residents and students at Imbler High School Monday. (PHIL BULLOCK/The Observer)
Senator recognizes high school students during meeting
Imbler High School students impressed Sen. Jeff Merkley in a town hall meeting Monday night.
Seniors posed questions about immigration, modified diplomas and health care, some of which are topics Merkley said he has never been asked about.
“I’m very impressed that two questions I’ve never been asked come from you all,” he told the student who asked about modified diplomas for children in foster care. “You’re testing the boundaries of the details.”
On that topic, Merkley said he believed regulation fell to the state but that he would look into it.
At the start of the town hall, Merkley recognized Imbler High School for its participation in the Eastern Promise Program, which
which gives students the opportunity to get college credit in high school. In presenting a U.S. flag that flew over the capitol to Imbler Superintendent Doug Hislop, Merkley said the program is a model for Oregon.
“We’re now moving that across the state,” he said.
Other attendees at the town hall raised questions about the environment, homeland security and the budget.
“Is there anyone in Washington, D.C., that understands the word ‘economics’?” one man asked.
Merkley said Congress had passed a bipartisan budget framework and noted that the deficit has fallen considerably in the last few years.
“We’re now at about half of where we were in terms of the deficit,” Merkley said. “We’ve got to stay on this path.”
Gary Webb, a Summerville resident who stood up with Merkley to ask his question, asked the senator what he was doing to ensure that President Obama stops “stepping on the Constitution.”
Merkley said he has been critical of the National Security Agency and Obama’s response.
“I’ve been a fierce critic of the administration in that respect,” Merkley said.
The final question was reserved for Imbler High School senior Rustin McDonald, who asked the senator about the Affordable Care Act and whether Merkley would vote for the law again.
“Before the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was passed, you came to La Grande and held a town hall meeting,” McDonald said. At the meeting, the student continued, Merkley told residents that they would be able to keep their insurance, their doctor and that Obamacare was not a tax.
Merkley said that people now have a side-by-side comparison to look at health care options and that he sponsored the bill in order to provide choice to citizens. The senator noted that website issues have been a problem and said he has called for a federal investigation into Cover Oregon. Merkley said 250,000 more Oregonians now have insurance.
“That is a powerful thing,” he said. “We have to keep what’s working and fix what’s not.”
The town hall stop in Imbler was part of a larger tour for Merkley, who visited Wallowa and Baker counties Tuesday.
At the end of the Imbler meeting, Merkley told residents he was glad they came out to ask questions even if they don’t agree because they help him “get outside the bubble.”