EAST MANATEE — Mary Lou DiMaggio spent all week working, taking care of her disabled husband and worrying about a son on his third tour in Iraq.
On Saturday, she braved the rain and cold to attend local U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan’s town hall meeting at Braden River High School to ask, “Is it just that politicians in Washington don’t care? Do they all feel it’s them rather than us?”
The Sarasota Republican had no easy answer.
The meeting was the second in a series of town halls the congressman is holding in the district throughout the year. A move that was mentioned by one attendee who said, “Only a handful of congressman in the country are doing this.”
“I didn’t quite hear you. Can you repeat that?” he said with a smile, getting a laugh from the crowd.
Buchanan’s moments of levity were welcome by a large audience ranging from high school students to retirees, all sharing a common concern about the direction the country is heading.
Jobs and health care questions received the lengthiest replies, but the questions ranged from offshore drilling to energy policy to terrorist trials in the civilian judicial system rather than under The Uniform Code of Military Justice used in military crimes.
Buchanan told a quick story about a terrorist in New York who stopped talking to law enforcement once he heard his Miranda rights.
“A true story,” he said to the crowd’s groans.
The number 3 trillion, however, received a moment of silence as he told the crowd the amount of tax money received by the federal government. A constitutional balanced budget amendment is something he said he works on every day in Washington, yet it continues to be elusive amid what he calls frivolous spending by the government.
Dee Cunningham, 74, voiced a bit of welcome optimism when she asked, “What chance does Congress have of balancing the budget in my lifetime?”
Then speaking over the laughter, she said: “If I live to be 100?” Again, there was no easy answer.
While Buchanan said he wants to “focus on getting working people back to work,” he pointed out that issues such as relief to small businesses and the unemployed are not getting the attention they deserve amid Washington’s focus on health care.
While Buchanan doesn’t support the current health care proposal, he does endorse reforms of a different kind. Reforms that will cut the cost of insurance to the general public and the particularly hard-hit small businesses.
“We are at a crossroads,” Buchanan said in regard to the direction of the country.
The wired tension and quick laughter by those in attendance helped to underline this belief.