SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Residents from Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Garwood, Plainfield and other surrounding communities attended a Town Hall meeting at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School on Saturday afternoon presided over by Democrat Congressman Rush Holt, who represents New Jersey's 12th Congressional District.
Although Holt has been in office since 1999, he has only represented the local area since last year, when changes to district boundaries put parts of Union County into the 12th District. Prior to that, some of those areas of Union County were in the 7th District, which continues to be represented by Congressman Leonard Lance (R).
Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr thanked everyone for coming and introduced Holt, who shared a few personal details, such as his following in his father’s footsteps into public office. His father was the youngest person ever elected to the Senate at the age of 29. Holt had also followed in his mother’s footsteps by becoming a teacher prior to his public service.
“In order for me to do my job, I must hear from you,” Holt said. “This is a very personal opportunity for me to hear from you and for you to hear from me. However, this is not your only opportunity. You can call me, write to me or e-mail at any time. I personally answered over 60,000 pieces of correspondence last year.”
Holt then shared that he always kept a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his breast pocket as a reminder of how he was a representative of the people, that he needed to stay informed of what the people that he represented wanted and how recent events in Washington had made it very hard to “get anything done.”
“This is about democracy. This job is not always easy, but it is a great honor and a great satisfaction for me to represent the good people of central New Jersey,” said Holt.
Without further ceremony, the floor was thrown open for residents to step up to the microphone and ask questions.
Questions ranged from what were his views on international trade agreements, to his thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, health care in general and his reaction to “Bridgegate” here in New Jersey.
When it came to questions and comments on trade agreements, Holt claimed to be all about what was fair and equitable for Americans, and what would ensure concepts such as human rights were not lost in the economic considerations.
“I think it should be about what is acceptable behavior in the largest sense, with respect to child labor, to environmental protection, human rights etc. as so many of the trade agreements over the past few decades have been only about economics and not about other issues,” he said.
Although he fundamentally supports the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), Holt also stated that he felt it did not go far enough, and he believes America would be better serviced by a system such as Medicare that would serve everyone, not just those over the age of 65.
“I take this issue kind of personally,” said Holt. “My sister died early because she did not have insurance. I know this has been repeated millions of times around the country.”
Other questions from residents had to do with the level of debt the U.S. is carrying and what can be done about it and the ongoing viability of Social Security.
Holt used the G.I. Bill as an example of “good” debt, of how the U.S. had used borrowed money to send returning G.I.s to school and to help them buy houses, thus making them productive members of the economic engine that propelled the nation forward. He also voiced his opinion that the “cap” should be taken off of how much money an individual paid Social Security tax on.
“Currently, Social Security tax is only paid on the first $110,000 that someone earns. If this cap it taken off, this would allow for increase in benefits and take any talk of solvency off the table. The best thing for Social Security is to have a vibrant, growing economy,” concluded Rep Holt.
Holt pointed out that the United States has been known for the past 200 years for its “can-do” attitude. “In the last decade or so we have begun to lose that. If we can get back to that attitude that by investing, we can grow stronger we will, in fact, grow. It is the anti-investment attitude that is affecting our can do attitude.”
The question was asked about members of Congress being exempt from the Affordable Care Act--which mandates that all citizens must now purchase health insurance--and Holt was quick to point out that it did, indeed, cover members of Congress. “I have signed up,” Holt said.
However, the federal government can continue to provide premiums to aides, as well as the Congress members who employ them, rather than buying it themselves. Many citizens have received notices that their existing health plans have been cancelled, and the employer mandate has not yet taken effect--only the individual mandate has.
A teacher from Plainfield came up to the microphone to bring up issues in urban areas. “We are not addressing core values," the teacher asked. "In places like Plainfield and Camden there is intergenerational welfare. What are we doing about addressing the core values to change this?”
Holt replied that this was a huge question and social scientists are still studying which came first--a breakdown in society or the breakdown in the economy that has caused the social breakdown. “We have held hearings into education, and we know that the 'No Child left Behind' is a failure, as well intended as it was, and we need to change the federal role in the primary and secondary education.”
Questions then came on his opinion of what was happening in New Jersey politics. “One of the things that is so troubling about "Bridgegate" is that when we form government, we give power and authority to individuals with the expectations that they will govern in the best interest and we have seen them use that power for petty parochial interests.”
After two hours of answering questions, Rep. Holt brought the meeting to a close. “I encourage anyone who still has questions to contact me directly. I want to hear from you,” he said.
Holt can be reached at:
New Jersey District Office • 50 Washington Road • West Windsor, NJ 08550