The event, held at the Bayou restaurant in Monett, offered an opportunity for comments on major issues and questions from the audience of 35.
Hot button legislation drew some of the most extensive comments. The most contentious was the "cap and trade" bill over carbon emissions. According to Congressman Blunt's senior field representative Steve McIntosh, proposed legislation would put a cap on producers of greenhouse gases. Those who did not fully use their permits could sell them to other producers.
McIntosh said Congressman Blunt opposes cap and trade and is taking criticism for his vote. Coal-powered electric plants, more common in the Midwest, could see costs rise from 40 to 200 percent, McIntosh said. Blunt opposes energy steps that would raise costs, according to McIntosh, and prefers to look at all alternative sources of energy as a total solution.
Stacy Burks, district representative for Senator Bond, said the senator is "completely opposed" to cap and trade but is very supportive of alternative energy. Bond wants to see economically feasible alternatives that pay for themselves, rather than "green" alternatives that end up being subsidized by the government.
David Rauch, district director for Senator McCaskill, said the senator does not believe climate change can be fixed "by increasing costs to those who can afford them the least." McCaskill does not presently support cap and trade, Rauch said.
Discussion about "green" alternatives prompted Mike Farquhar, chief executive officer at EFCO Corporation, to ask the legislators to remember existing firms that have been working in the energy efficiency field for years.
"EFCO is one of the largest manufacturers of commercial doors and windows in the nation and has been creating green jobs for 50 years," Farquhar said. "EFCO is now part of a company [Pella] that has done that for 80 years. I don't want companies with unproven technologies to be given priority. We're all about green jobs."
Farquhar offered to give the legislators a tour of EFCO's facilities in Monett anytime.
A less controversial but equally critical issue before legislators is the next Highway Bill. Burks said the bill is not moving in the Senate now and may not until a funding fix is found for the Highway Trust Fund. Bond, she said, wanted to concentrate on a total transportation system of high quality.
McIntosh said the federal Highway Bill, renewed every six years, will expire in September. Funding will be sustained by continuing resolutions, but typically it takes another two years to complete a new highway package after the old version expires.
"Senator Bond has done a yeoman's job in getting Missouri back from a donor state status," McIntosh said.
Bond had moved Missouri from getting back 74 cents for every $1 paid into the Highway Trust Fund to getting $1.01 back for every $1.
Without Bond's key role in moving highway legislation, McIntosh said, "Missouri will suffer."
Rauch said a major issue for McCaskill is health care costs.
"If we're going to get a handle on federal spending and a longterm solution to the deficient, we must get a handle on health care," Rauch said. "With Medicare and Medicaid, the federal government is in health care, like it or not. We need to look for ways to contain costs."
Rauch said the health care debate is just beginning. He indicated McCaskill recognizes most people are satisfied with the health care coverage now and want to make sure they don't lose what they have.
Bond's position, Burks said, is he wants no form of national health care that will get between doctors and patients, thus driving up costs.
McIntosh said the House health care bill will likely mirror the Senate's bill, which will not come out until after July 4.
All the representatives said there is little public understanding about how the federal stimulus money works. Burks said Bond's office regularly gets calls from people asking for access to stimulus money for "green" efforts. The money is not going to new programs but it being funneled toward pre-existing programs, rather than new ones.
McIntosh said stimulus money has come out of bills that authorize programs. Other bills direct spending. For example, authorization bills take money from the Environmental Protection Administration to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, or from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for distribution in grants through its Rural Development program.
"There's a misconception that there is a huge pot of gold out there to chip and seal city streets. It's not there," McIntosh said.
"Forty percent of the stimulus bill comes in the form of tax cuts," Rauch said. "Federal and state agencies are enhancing their programs," with projects like the widening of Highway 60, he said.
Several audience members urged the legislators to oppose legislation to change rules on a secret ballot to unionize. Blunt and Bond categorically oppose the change, the representatives said. McCaskill was urged to reconsider.
Monett School Board member Rod Anderson encouraged the legislators to back an increase in the federal Carl Perkins money for technical and career education.
"That's where the rubber hits the road," Anderson said. "There will be a point where the cost is too great to send students to the Career Center (without more federal funds)."
The representatives urged constituents writing the lawmakers to first contact the local offices, rather than writing to Washington. They also said e-mail messages need to identify the sender as someone who lives in the district or state for the e-mail to get read.