By Margie Hyslop and Asmaa Malik
FREDERICK, Md. – Getting Congress and the president to balance the budget was the first concern of one out of four residents of Frederick and Washington counties interviewed at random at malls, schools and businesses.
“It seems incredible to me that they’re using it as a political chess piece,” said Rosemary Wilkinson, a learning specialist at Frederick Community College. “I think shutting down the government has been much more expensive than keeping it going.”
More than 62 percent of the 29 residents interviewed Jan. 31 said they did not think Congress and the president had effectively addressed their concerns.
Maryland Democrats and Republicans go to the polls Tuesday to select their candidates for Congress and president. Ten days later, temporary funding measures for the federal government run out.
Many said they were anxious for lawmakers to resolve the impasse and avoid another shutdown.
“They need to set a time frame and stick with it,” said David Tosten, 26, a hardware salesman from Hagerstown.
The future of Social Security and the education system tied for second as chief concerns, with about 14 percent naming each.
“I don’t think they should balance the budget on the backs of the elderly and the children who need education,” said Anna Lee Burker, 69, of Sharpsburg, who was widowed 10 years ago and said she lives on less than $10,000 a year.
Urbanna Elementary School secretary Debbie Yoder, 45, interviewed while the principal worked on the budget nearby, said she worried that schools would not have enough money. She said her school is faced with losing its gifted and talented program.
“Teachers have to spend too much time … disciplining instead of teaching,” said Treena Bell, a 22-year-old mother and cashier from Mount Pleasant.
Bell shares the president’s belief that adopting school uniforms might stop some children from killing each other over designer jackets.
Several said taxpayers’ money could be better allocated.
“I think they’re dropping the ball on the elderly and there are lots of projects or groups they’re supporting that are useless, like studies of how fast ketchup ran,” said Crystal Denunzio, 33, owner of three Frederick businesses.
Like more than a quarter of the random sample, James May, a 35-year-old firefighter from Urbanna, said the president should accept the Republicans’ proposed budget cuts – although that may jeopardize his job. He said his job is at risk because of reduced fire and rescue funding.
More than a third interviewed said the Republicans’ proposed cuts went too far. They worried that turning social programs over to the states would eliminate “the safety net.”
“I think it’s important that they’re having a discussion about what the role of federal government is, but they’re playing games,” said Bob Cushman, 53, a former lobbyist who now owns Frederick Baking Co.
“Welfare reform needs to be made responsibly,” Cushman said. “We have to do something about the decline of cities and providing affordable housing. There are people who are not going to have a place to live.”
Several complained the president had not fulfilled his commitment to address the issues of health care access and insurance costs.
“As a single working parent, I’m making too much to get help from social services,” said Valerie Swope, 32, a manicurist from Middletown, “but I make too little to buy medical insurance for my daughter and myself.”
Respondents were asked several specific questions, including whether they favored campaign reform and limiting the number of terms members of Congress could serve.
In this presidential election year, more than half worried that well-funded candidates had an unfair advantage.
“The ones that have the money always win,” said John Montgomery, a 70-year-old retiree from Hagerstown. “I call it buying votes.”
The other half expressed mixed satisfaction with the current campaign system, saying they could not suggest an alternative.
Seventy-two percent favored setting term limits.
Charles Poindexter Sr., 62, a furniture salesman from Frederick, pointed to Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., a 93-year-old who has held office for nearly 40 years.
“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.”
Less than a quarter of those interviewed could name all three of their congressional representatives. Sixteen of 29 respondents correctly named Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick; 16 named Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; 15 named Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md.
Survey respondents included 15 women and 14 men. The median age of respondents was 37 and the sample roughly reflected the economic and racial make-up of the counties.
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