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Vol. LXV, No. 50
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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Rush Holt Answers Questions From Voters; Discusses Economy in Telephone Town Hall

— Ellen Gilbert

“We’re under new management here and things aren’t going so well,” observed Congressman Rush Holt (D-12) in a recent telephone town hall with his constituents (“my peers,” as he described them, at one point).

The observation about a president “shackled” by Congress came during Mr. Holt’s response to a question about the possibility of getting funds (“if the governor would accept them,” added the caller) to improve roads in the state and to create jobs.

“The federal government has been involved in transportation and other infrastructure problems for centuries,” responded Mr. Holt. The building of national roads, he said, was not only “of great symbolic significance; it stimulated the economy.”

“When you’ve got 25 million Americans out of work or underemployed, job creation should be our top priority — the top priority of the government,” he continued. The “American Jobs Act” endorsed by the president, he observed, is the “topic of debate, argument, even invective,” although it would cut taxes for small businesses, hire more teachers and fire fighters, and put money into school construction, “the kind of infrastructure improvement that does pay off.”

“It’s a balanced program, not ambitious enough according to my way of thinking,” Mr. Holt added.

Mr. Holt reported that “we have just now set a new record for the least number of bills passed in a year, and the least number signed into law by the president in a non-election year. In other words,” he concluded, “something as simple and straightforward as the Jobs Bill hasn’t been passed.”

Mr. Holt continued this theme in his response to a question regarding “this partisanship issue” and the current absence of leadership in Washington, D.C. “You’re getting to what I find most troubling,” he said. “Over the past year the operating ethic in Washington and in Congress has been that we can’t and shouldn’t do anything.” He went on to describe how belief in America’s tradition of can-do resourcefulness has waned, despite the fact that “the very idea of progress has been built into this country and has been part of our character for a couple of centuries.” The belief that every individual, community, and the government “has a responsibility for fostering that progress” has been replaced, he said, by the belief that government “should tighten its belt and lower its sights,” a notion that “strikes at the heart of what everyone has valued in America.” Everyone on this call, he said, is a product of the education system that was built “with a spirit of entrepreneurship that assumed ‘my neighbor’s got my back.’ We “need to return to that,” concluded Mr. Holt. “It’s the most important issue.”

Other subjects addressed by Mr. Holt during the hour-long program included the Veterans Administration, medical research, and the environmental impact of fracking (extracting oil and gas from the earth by injecting it with highly pressurized fluid). In addition to taking live questions from telephone town hall participants, Mr. Holt also responded to recent questions he has received in the mail. “I get mail on a huge range of subjects,” he reported, adding that that’s “not surprising with 700,000 people in our congressional district.”

Noting that he too uses public transportation for weekly trips to Washington, D.C., Mr. Holt shared a writer’s concerns about the quality of Amtrak and NJTransit service, with trains running near capacity and fares almost doubled over the past two years. “The aging infrastructure of the system is taking its toll,” commented Mr. Holt. “Some of it — like the tunnels under the Hudson River — was constructed many decades ago.” Mr. Holt noted that while Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has earmarked $450 million for improving tracks between Trenton and Pennsylvania, “that’s really the source of the problem,” since it takes years to accomplish systemic upgrades. “I’ve written to the head of NJTransit often asking for explanations or efficiencies that they can build in in the meantime,” Mr. Holt said.

“This is not your last chance to be in touch with me,” Mr. Holt assured listeners during the conversation. “If I don’t get to your question please stay on the line and leave a message for me on voicemail. Also, at any other time, you can email me, you can fax me, you can phone me.”

Mr. Holt’s website is

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