Lorna Henkel was so troubled by the prospect of military action against Iraq that she raced over to her neighborhood grocery after church last Sunday to see her congressman.
Just inside the Acme market, across from rows of half-priced Valentine’s Day chocolates, Rep. Steve Rothman of New Jersey, a freshman Democrat, was holding court. Henkel told him the United States shouldn’t bomb Iraq.
“It created more problems the last time around and didn’t solve anything,” said Henkel, who works as an aide at a Christian elementary school. “The people of Iraq are suffering.”
Iraq was not the only issue on people’s minds this past week, even as the United States edged closer to a military confrontation.
Away from Washington, lawmakers returning to their districts during Congress’ recess have heard the usual constituent concerns: Social Security, government spending, Medicaid, child care and the environment.
Largely absent from that list were the allegations involving President Clinton’s relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“It’s ridiculous. We’ve wasted our time and money over this” investigation, said Ellen Lewis of Secaucus, a sales representative for an office supply store. “I think the whole matter is something best left between Hillary and Bill.”
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s refusal to give U.N. inspectors unrestricted access to suspected weapons sites didn’t come up in Hammond, La., until GOP Rep. Robert Livingston remarked that no one had asked about it after nearly two hours. Near the bayou, people wanted to know about preserving the wetlands.
Livingston’s observation provoked Howard Edwards of Independence, La., who said: “We don’t care about another war. We don’t want to see anybody die for that nut over there.”
Glen Martin, a restaurateur in Ottumwa, Iowa, also worried about the possibility of a military conflict.
“I think there’s a lot of danger over there,” Martin told Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell. “We’re going to lose some people over there, no doubt about it.”
Others asked about dollars-and-cents issues.
Margetta Stinson, 52, of Poneto, Ind., asked Rep. Mark Souder, a Republican, about cuts by Medicaid, the federal-state heath care program for the poor.
She said her 78-year-old mother, a Parkinson’s disease sufferer, recently was told she was ineligible for at-home visits four times a week by a nurse who helped her bathe. The visits were scaled back to twice a week and then cut entirely, Stinson said.
“She gets no one at all anymore,” said Stinson, who has hired a family friend to help with her mother’s baths. “I don’t mind helping my mother. We just don’t understand the cuts.”
Charles Johnson of Ponchatoula, La., accused Republicans of wasteful spending. He cited as an example continued funding for the grant-making National Endowment for the Arts despite several attempts to kill the agency by conservatives in Congress.
“You pull money out of our pocket,” Johnson told Livingston, who runs the House committee that helps decide government spending. “Since my dander is up and you are the one I see, you waste money so unbelievably.” He also said he has seen his paycheck dwindle.
“It’s robbery and they call it taxation,” Johnson said.
Clinton’s proposal to funnel federal surplus funds to Social Security interested Joan Bader.
“The federal government has raped that fund for years,” she said in northern New Jersey, with her husband, Al, standing alongside her. “It’s time to put (the money) back.”
Rothman, her congressman, said the issue was his “first priority.”
“I don’t want to hear there’s not going to be enough (money). I don’t want to lose my entitlement,” she added. “If the congressmen can have theirs, I can have mine.”
Audrey Vogel, who recently received a new liver, cornered Rothman long enough to ask about help paying expenses and medical bills that she said were mounting fast.
At 64, she is too young for Medicare. She collects Social Security but that’s being squeezed by everyday living expenses and a tab for medicines that costs $1,500 a month, she added.
“All of these things add up,” said Vogel, a retired nurse’s aide from Secaucus. “I have no idea next year what I’m going to do. I’m running very short. Where do older people get help?”