By Jeremy Wise
Residents of this small Coffee County town asked several economic questions, specifically about jobs and the national debt, during a visit from U.S. Rep. Martha Roby Tuesday.
Roby, beginning her August "Meet with Martha" tour that will make a stop in Enterprise next Tuesday, informed residents about Congress' recent work and fielded several questions, many of which involved a slow economy.
Kinston Mayor Heflin Smith asked how the government could encourage industries to employ American workers instead of sending jobs overseas.
"We have to level the playing field," Roby said. "We have to make sure free-trade agreements are fair-trade agreements. With our corporate tax structure, we penalize businesses."
The Montgomery Republican said if several changes come to the White House and Congress through this year's elections, she believes "comprehensive tax reform" that is "fairer, less complicated and flatter" may be addressed in the near future.
Another resident asked if government officials would consider reducing aid to foreign governments, to which Roby responded that foreign aid represents less than 2 percent of the federal budget.
"Your point is right but there are some governments that we have an interest in," she said, noting some countries have nuclear capabilities or "other situations" that could become a national security threat.
Roby said support to Israel must continue.
"Israel is a beacon of light in a very volatile part of the world," she said.
Before fielding questions, Roby had already discussed some of the budget and "sequestration" -- forced budget cuts that will take effect at the beginning of 2013.
Through the Budget Control Act, which she did not support, Congress voted to extend the debt ceiling by $1.6 trillion. In exchange, a committee of 12 congressmen and senators was selected to agree to several cuts in hopes of moving toward a balanced budget.
If they could not agree on cuts, then sequestration would force several cuts. The national defense stands to be harmed the most by that development, losing 50 percent of the budget.
"They are already undergoing $487 billion in cuts, and they would have an additional $500 billion in cuts," Roby said. "We're going to have a hollowed-out military."
Roby said many officials are working toward a smaller but still effective military and remains optimistic an agreement on cuts can be reached before sequestration takes place.
"I still have hope in what will be a "lame duck' session. It's Congress, and nothing gets done in Congress until it absolutely has to," she said.
Some of the proposed cuts came in a new farm bill, which set to cut out $33 billion from the food stamp program by eliminating automatic enrollment of recipients into other federal programs. That legislation stalled, though, leaving Congress with a current farm bill that is set to expire Sept. 30.
When legislation stalls, especially good legislation, Americans' hope in the government becomes less and less, and that hope that will not be gained until Congress actually accomplishes something, Roby said.
"You do have a voice. There's a lot of contradiction. We have this idea that compromise is a bad word," she said. "I'm not going to compromise my core beliefs ... but we have got to find a common ground. All (younger generations) see is one big fight."
Roby encouraged residents to be active in the political process and to vote in November. Even if races locally are not contested, she asked residents to voice their opinions to representatives and Senators in other states.
Therese Ford has challenged Roby for Alabama's 2nd Congressional seat in November's election.
Roby will be at Cutts Restaurant at 3 p.m. Tuesday as the third of four stops in her "Meet with Martha" tour.