Rep. Donna Edwards

Rep. Donna Edwards (Photo courtesy CNS / November 30, 2011)

Maryland District 4 Rep. Donna Edwards spoke to constituents Saturday at the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel, addressing economic concerns and outlining her current priorities.

Edwards, a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, provided coffee for attendees and took questions for more than an hour.

Edwards began by discussing the federal government's March spending cuts, which may result in multiple furlough days for federal workers. If two parents with government jobs have 14 or 15 furlough days, she said, that essentially adds up to a month of pay lost.

"I know few families who can afford to lose a month of pay during the course of the year," she said.

Edwards said that, along with her employees, she is taking a reduced salary as a result of the cuts. An 11 percent cut of the Congressional operations budget became effective in January, and the sequester forced Congress to absorb an additional 8.2 percent. After getting that figure down to 6 percent that still needed to be cut, Edwards' office decided to have salary cuts across the board, rather than implementing furlough days, to absorb an additional 2 percent.

Bipartisan compromise is necessary to work through these fiscal challenges, she said, and no legislators are going to entirely get their way.

"I hope cooler heads and minds are going to prevail over the next few months," Edwards said.

Edwards, who serves on the House's Science, Space and Technology Committee, stressed issues pertaining to NASA's funding.

The space program is particularly important for job creation in Prince George's County because of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, she said, but aerospace industries and operations are also prominent throughout the state.

"We can't afford to stop that kind of innovating," Edwards said.

Edwards also serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and she said one of her priorities is ensuring that the federal government supports the states' long-term investments in maintaining roads, bridges and mass transit.

"Every time we make sure that people can move more smoothly and more efficiently, then we actually grow our economy," she said.

Lee Taylor, a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service from Silver Spring, asked Edwards to support reformative legislation that would allow the USPS to continue providing six-day delivery service and to "adapt to this era without degrading the network we have."

Edwards agreed that reform should occur, and she said a major problem with the Postal Service's current business model is that it is required by the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act to front-load funding for its pension system.

"If any business had to front-load payment of pensions, you wouldn't have money to spend on anything else," she said.

Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, who also attended the Saturday coffee, said that the economic struggles of the USPS have implications that filter down to the post office on Main Street.

"That's an economic development tool for us," Moe said. "It brings people there for their services, but those people hopefully go elsewhere and use local businesses."

"I understand the need to save money," Moe said, "but it also has rippling effects on local government."

A recurring topic during the discussion was the role of the federal government and its agencies during tough economic times. Edwards said that, although large partisan divisions still remain, she hopes elected officials will be more cooperative once the budget cuts take effect.

"They are going to begin to hear from people in their areas about these impacts," she said.