By Ray Chandler
Federal budget issues dominated residents' talk to U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan in Seneca on Wednesday, but post offices and methamphetamine labs also caught the congressman's attention.
To Seneca Realtor Devoe Blackston, the main issue was money. Blackston supported Duncan's recent stand against raising the federal debt ceiling.
"This budget situation has got to be controlled," Blackston said. "The way it is just going to lead to more debt."
As part of his listening tour, the congressman, a Republican who represents the 3rd Congressional District, went from table to table at lunchtime at the Seneca Family Restaurant. He heard many sentiments similar to Blackston's.
The next fight Duncan sees in the federal fiscal battle is talks in September on a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating beyond the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.
"We don't know yet how that's going to go," Duncan said. "We'll have to pass a resolution to keep from having a government shutdown."
A lot will depend, he said, on the efforts of a 12-member congressional committee formed as part of the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling. The bipartisan committee is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in additional budget cuts.
The possibility of a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution is also on Duncan's mind.
"I'm waiting to see what the proposed amendment looks like to see if it's something I can support," Duncan said.
Seneca Police Chief John Covington is concerned about a February announcement by the federal government that ended federal grant funding to clean up methamphetamine lab sites as of June 30.
"If we had a cleanup, I'd have to go before the city council and ask for funding," Covington said. "We don't have funding for it in our budget."
With cleanups costing as much as $5,000 to $15,000, Covington said, the difficulties mount.
Duncan said he and his staff have been talking to law enforcement agencies since the issue arose, looking for solutions.
"Maybe attaching the property where these meth labs are found," Duncan said. "It's a problem we're going have to deal with and it should be possible to find some middle ground."
Making the property owner or landlord ultimately responsible seems reasonable, he said, since it doesn't seem fair to use taxpayer money to clean up the messes of illicit drug manufacturers.
Proposals to close post offices were on the minds of some constituents who want threatened post offices to remain open. In Oconee County the post office in Long Creek is under study for possible closing.
"This is a new issue on our radar screen, and we're looking into it," Duncan said. "The insolvency of the post office has been an issue for a while, but it's going to have to be dealt with. Post offices are, after all, a constitutional function of the federal government."