BROOKSVILLE — U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent came to his home county Monday to offer an update on the nation's budget woes and seek ideas from his neighbors.
In what was billed as a "budget listening session" at the Hernando County Government Center, the Spring Hill Republican projected colorful charts and graphs onto a screen to outline the problems.
As painful as the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration may be, and as controversial as President Barack Obama's tax increases on wealthy Americans have been, those measures do little to dent the nation's deficit, Nugent said. And Medicare will be insolvent in 11 years if Congress does nothing.
"If that happens, there are going to be drastic cuts," the congressman said. "That's unacceptable for people who will depend on that for the rest of their retired lives."
Nugent renewed his pledge to oppose reforms to Social Security and Medicare that would affect current retirees or those near retirement age, but he didn't offer specifics on how he thinks those programs should be reformed.
The former Hernando sheriff said he will continue to push for a constitutional amendment that would require the government to approve a balanced budget each year. He also called the current tax code "a busted system" requiring an overhaul.
A few of the roughly three dozen audience members expressed frustration that the United States continues to spend money abroad when the domestic budget is in dire shape.
Why not close some of the U.S. military bases around the world? suggested Shirley Miketinac, 61, of Brooksville
"By bringing our soldiers home, we would bring such prosperity to this country because our soldiers would be spending money here," Miketinac said.
A new member of the House Armed Services Committee, Nugent agreed that America's international military footprint is "kind of heavy."
"We do have some obligations around the world, but we have to moderate those requirements," he said.
Nugent noted his sponsorship of a bill with Democratic Sen. Al Franken to help give law enforcement more tools and training to improve the way the legal system handles people with mental health issues.
"It costs you and I more to incarcerate a mental health patient in the county jail because the only treatment they receive is the drugs to keep them in check," he said.
Spring Hill resident Pierre Desjardins said cuts to social programs are offensive when corporations continue to get big tax breaks.
"Why is corporate welfare never addressed?" asked Desjardins, 56. "Where do you stand, and what are you specifically going to do about it?"
Nugent said closing tax loopholes will be part of tax reform.
"We're going to be looking at all of those things," he said. "I think it's the right thing to do, and it's something this Congress has said it's going to do."