By T.M. Hartmann and Dennis O’Brien
WASHINGTON – The message was unmistakably clear from 131 Marylanders recently interviewed on election-year concerns: Congress and President Clinton need to resolve their differences and agree on a budget plan.
Forty-one percent of respondents stopped at random Wednesday in 10 Maryland jurisdictions named budget considerations as their primary concern.
“It’s sad that these people who are supposed to be acting like elected officials are acting like children. Even kids in kindergarten work their problem out by the end of the day,” said Harley Purnell, 22, who works for a youth outreach program on the Eastern Shore.
After budget considerations, the next biggest worry was over spending on social services such as Medicare and welfare. Twenty- four percent raised those issues.
Concerns about crime, education and the state of the economy followed.
Marylanders were asked to identify problems they think should be addressed by the president and Congress. They also were asked pointed questions about issues such as campaign reform, term limits and how well their elected officials are performing.
While only a quarter of the 131 people interviewed knew the names of all three members representing them in the House and Senate, 43 percent said that whomever those officials are, they are doing a bad job.
“It seems incredible to me that they are using [the budget] as a political chess piece,” said Rosemary Wilkinson, a learning specialist at Frederick Community College.
Forty-two percent supported the president’s refusal of the deeper budget cuts proposed by the Republicans to balance the budget.
“These cuts will have a ripple effect on education, employment and health care issues,” said Mary Ann Hoffman, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland.
“There are ways to balance the budget without cutting necessary programs,” said Hoffman, 46, who lives in Bethesda.
Opinions differed on how money should be spent for social services.
Sandy Yeatman, 37, a widow who was homeless for six months, said money should be diverted from foreign aid to help this country’s needy.
“They give enough funds to other countries, and there’s children right here that are starving,” said the unemployed mother of two from Cambridge, on the Eastern Shore.
Lincoln Kaar, a 24-year-old elementary school teacher in Montgomery County, disagreed. “I’m paying too much for people who do nothing but sit around and have children,” he said.
“The liberal press is brainwashing everyone into thinking people should get everything for free and we should pity everyone,” said Kaar, of Germantown.
Twenty-six percent of those questioned said Clinton was more effective in addressing their concerns; 17 percent said Congress was more effective. Fifty-seven percent said that neither Congress nor the president had been effective in solving their problems.
“I don’t think that either are making a difference,” said Sandra Singer, a bookstore manager from Hyattsville.
Eighty-four of those interviewed said they favored some form of campaign reform, especially for fund-raising methods.
“The whole system is wrong. It’s out of hand. They’re playing with monopoly money and gangsters,” said Sandy Thompson, 62, from Rockville, who works in a travel agency.
Two-thirds backed congressional term limits and a line-item veto option for the president. The veto would permit the president to strike individual appropriations from the federal budget, rather than scrapping the whole package when he disagrees with one item.
John Boho, 81, of Bladensburg, a retired steam operator for PEPCO, was one of those favoring term limits.
“When they get to be my age, they’re not as sharp as they should be,” he said.
Three members of Congress – Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., Rep. Sidney Yates, D-Ill., and Rep. James Quillen, R-Tenn. – are more than 80 years old.
Charles Poindexter Sr., 62, a furniture salesman from Frederick, cited Thurmond, a 93-year-old who has held office for about 40 years, as a case in point.
“There’s no way this man should still be holding a seat on Capitol Hill, and he’s a [committee] chairman,” Poindexter said. “There comes a time when your mind doesn’t function. … If you had term limits, he’d be out of there.”
The percent of respondents in Capital News Service’s survey who called themselves Republicans was 30 percent, the same as registered Republicans statewide.
Fifty-seven, or 44 percent of those questioned, called themselves Democrats. Twenty-seven percent considered themselves undeclared or other.
Those included in the interviews are residents of Prince George’s, Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Carroll, Dorchester, Talbot, St. Mary’s and Charles counties, and Baltimore city. Capital News Service reporters Charles Wolpoff, Loren Goloski, Karen Carstens, Jane Taylor, Asmaa Malik and Margie Hyslop contributed to this story. -30-