Rothman represents 37 municipalities that make up the 9th Congressional District in New Jersey. Rothman calls his local gatherings "listening sessions," where he comes to a town and listens to the concerns and the views of the residents.
Last week, Rothman made 11 stops, including a spirited gathering at North Bergen Town Hall last Friday afternoon.
Talking about prescriptions...and Israel
While most of the 50 or so residents in attendance were concerned senior citizens, the 90-minute banter between Rothman and the residents of North Bergen was certainly informative and entertaining.
Rothman covered a wide variety of topics, including health care, perks for the big oil companies from the Bush administration, and the war in Iraq.
He also discussed the ongoing situation in the Middle East involving Israel and Lebanon.
"It's really great to listen to the people, and it's so valuable to me to hear directly what's on their mind," Rothman said. "They really reached the gamut of topics, locally, nationally and internationally. I receive 40,000 letters and e-mails a year. So I think it's important to be able to get out and listen to what my constituents have to say and they can ask me questions in person, instead of writing letters or calling."
Rothman readily admitted that the majority of the people who have been attending the town meetings are 45 and older. The commissioners' chambers in North Bergen was clearly filled with senior citizens who could take the time in the middle of the day to meet and greet their Congressman.
"But at some of the meetings, we've had concerned high school kids," Rothman said. "Some of them had kids from elementary schools. We try to do the meetings strategically, mixing up day and night, depending on the location and the region."
Hard to afford prescriptions
Rothman had a similar listening session in North Bergen in 2004, but this one was better attended and spirited. While Rothman spoke on national issues, health care was on many residents' minds: specifically, whether Medicare Plan B will work.
North Bergen resident Norma Brent offered her personal dilemmas involving prescription costs.
"No matter what you do, you can't win," Brent said. "You can make a choice. Either you take your pills or you don't. But if you buy the pills, then you don't eat or pay rent. It's always something."
Rothman placed the blame on the current administration in the White House.
"Medicare Plan B should have been fixed and it wasn't," Rothman said. "The President and the present majority doesn't want it to change. I have an incentive to fix Medicare because it is important to the people in my district. It's my job to see that it gets fixed and it's the right thing to do."
Rothman said, "The current administration has given $120 billion to the drug companies. The drug companies do a great job in keeping us alive. They serve a huge purpose and a lot of them are based here in New Jersey. But do they need $120 billion from the federal government?"
Universal health care
North Bergen resident Herb Shaw, who has run for public office countless times over the last three decades, asked Rothman about modeling a universal health care program in the United States like the ones used in Great Britain and Canada.
"We already have a universal health care program," Rothman said. "It's called Medicare. And it works pretty darn well. But we still have 48 million Americans who don't have medical insurance, so maybe the system isn't working and it's getting worse. People have different opinions on why the costs of medical insurance are so high in this country and of course, medical malpractice lawsuits have something to do with it. We just have to see if we can expand Medicare to all Americans."
There was some discussion about the benefits of medical marijuana and the "morning after" birth control pills as well.
Debate over Israel
Someone asked Rothman how he felt about the situation in Lebanon, and the question drew a heated debate for about 20 minutes.
"I'm so scared with what's going on in the world," one woman said. "We couldn't get trailers to the [Hurricane] Katrina victims, but we're spending millions to get bombs to Israel. It doesn't make sense."
Rothman clearly said that the United States has to assist its biggest ally in the Middle East, namely Israel. "America is the biggest arms dealer in the world," Rothman said. "That's for certain. From what I understand, Israel placed an order to purchase cluster bombs from us. I feel sorry for the Lebanese people, because the Hezbollah [terrorists in Lebanon] represent the minority there. They're holding all the Lebanese people at hostage for their actions. No one wants to see anyone get hurt."
Voted for Iraq
Of course, no political discussion could go on without someone mentioning the war in Iraq, which still is the hottest of topics.
Rothman admitted that he first voted for the war - a stance that has hurt the Senate campaign of Joe Lieberman in Connecticut, costing Lieberman the Democratic nomination in that state to newcomer Ned Lamont.
"Most Americans have gone the same route as I did, first supporting the war and now against it," Rothman said. "Most Americans supported President Bush, because we believed that there were weapons of mass destruction there. But now, as we know, there is no danger of those weapons."
Rothman added, "We've given him three years to prosecute this war and now we have more than 2,500 soldiers dead and another 1,800 wounded for life. It's time to see this war as what it's become, a civil war between the Iraqi Sunnis and the Iraqi Shiites. I think most Americans are now against this war and want us out."
Gas and oil
Rothman started the meeting by complaining about the Bush administration's giving oil companies tax breaks while the price of gasoline skyrockets.
"The Bush administration has pushed together on practically every single bill that benefits the oil business," Rothman told the audience. "And how did Bush and Cheney make their money? In the oil business. But they gave $12 billion to the oil and gas industry last year, a year where they had the companies had their highest profits on record."
Rothman said that he is pushing to have the major oil companies invest in producing alternative fuels, like ethanol.
"We need to have the oil companies produce ethanol pumps at most gas stations," Rothman said. "We should be looking into the possibility of hydrogen as a source of fuel as well. Vegetables produce fuel as well. We don't have to be dependent on foreign oil."
Another heated topic - probably the one that hit home the most with the audience -
He's getting married
Rothman said that he was happy to take the time to speak to the North Bergen residents, even if he was still planning his wedding, which was slated to take place Saturday.
The appearance drew rave reviews from the people in attendance.
"He was open, personable, and answered everyone's questions," said S.D. Birn, a long-time North Bergen resident. "It was rewarding to get the chance to talk to him. It was informative and definitely worth the while for me to come."
"Although I don't get a chance to come to North Bergen often, they should know that they could always call me," Rothman said. "I'm here for them."