LAKEWOOD RANCH -- U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, took some time to listen to residents Saturday in Lakewood Ranch as they expressed their concerns with the economy, spending, jobs and immigration.
For a little over an hour, Buchanan not only listened but gave residents feedback to their concerns at a listening stop at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, 5000 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
The event began with Buchanan briefly speaking on the deficit and the effects of an aging population.
"Medicare and Social Security are both great programs. But they were never designed for people to live into their 90s," Buchanan said.
According to the congressman, the U.S. will pay out more than $1 trillion in health care benefits this year.
"We are running a $1.3 trillion deficit every year for the last four years," Buchanan said. "We look at the young people and we are running it up at their expense."
Buchanan said there is plenty of blame to go around.
One Ellenton resident gave him one idea of how to cut costs. "Why don't we just take 50 percent of foreign aid?" asked Chris Moyer. "Take that money and spend that money on preparing and maintaining our own infrastructure. That will create jobs and build revenue."
The Navy veteran traveled the world during his 20 years of military service, and understands the poverty and injustice that exists elsewhere.
Yet, Moyer said, "I believe charity begins at home."
Buchanan agreed this could be done.
"We don't need to buy our friends," Buchanan said. "We need to put that money in for our seniors and our veterans."
Buchanan spoke of his time abroad and the money he sees the U.S. spend.
"We give 50 billion a year in foreign aid," Buchanan said.
The congressman did caution, however, that the United States needs to be cautious because it has interests around the world.
Another local resident spoke to the congressman on the issue of the deficit. "My kitchen economics tell me you cannot run a 7 percent, almost 8 percent, deficit if you are growing at 2 percent or 3 precent," Ed Nebrija said.
Nebrija, who works in the oil industry, quoted Warren Buffett, saying, "It is OK to run a 3 percent deficit if you are growing at 3 percent."
"I never agreed with running up deficits," Buchanan said. "You get that mindset and then you get into a period of four or five years that are tough."
To accomplish this, though, Buchanan stressed a bipartisan effort was necessary.
"The bottom line is, you don't spend more than you bring in," said Buchanan. "Make the tough decisions, like in Florida."
Buchanan used Florida as an example of balancing a budget.
The talk in Lakewood Ranch wasn't just economics Saturday. One resident did bring up the issue of immigrants and the economic benefit they bring.
"The Deptartment of the Treasury, Congressional Budget Office and the Kato Institute have found that what immigrants contribute to the United States is greater than what they use," Juan Rodriguez said.
The sociology student at the University of South Florida spoke of the 11 million who "live in the shadows."
"So by legalizing those immigrants, the country would benefit in $180 billion in revenue they are expected to contribute toward GDP."
Rodriguez questioned Buchanan's position since the Senate is expected to take up the issue after the Easter break, with the House to follow.
"I have been consistent. I'm not a big believer in amnesty," Buchanan said. "We do need to address the immigration issue, though."
Buchanan said he wanted to wait to see what the bill says. He still is hesitant to give everyone citizenship.
"We can't reward citizenship for people that break the law," Buchanan said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her at Twitter @JDeLeon1012.