When he returns to the 2nd Congressional District, Congressman Frank LoBiondo says the top two topics his constituents pull him aside to talk about are jobs and the economy.
"It's no question," said LoBiondo, a Republican who has held his House seat since 1994.
LoBiondo sat down with the REmindER for nearly two hours last week to discuss a number of topics.
"I hear it every day," added LoBiondo, about the economy. "And, I've been meeting with a lot of the county chamber commerce executive boards just to see what they're saying. It's pretty universal."
The latest statistics presented to LoBiondo state that the regional unemployment rate is 13 percent, but he fears it may be a bit worse.
"I think it's an inaccurate number because the bean counters in Washington are telling us there are fewer people in the workforce today than there were 30 years ago, which is clearly not true," LoBiondo said.
And, for those that are employed, the element of fear is prevalent, according to LoBiondo.
"Employees are worrying about losing their job they do have," he said. "Whether I'm at a chamber of commerce event, a church function or a fire breakfast, the people that save say, "I was thinking about buying a car, or a refrigerator, but I won't because I don't know if I'm going to have my job tomorrow.'"
This sentiment is reflected nationwide as the latest Consumer Confidence Index registered 70.8 in February, down from the 100s and 90s seen in the booming days of the country's economy. However, the number has risen from 2011 low of 40.90 seen in November.
Adding to the uncertainty is the approach of a national healthcare law, as well as undetermined tax rates.
However, LoBiondo hopes the soon to be heard arguments on the legal justification of President Barack Obama's healthcare law, specifically the constitutionality of mandating American citizens purchase health insurance, is found to be unconstitutional.
It's a legal challenge that was brought on by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.
"It's a critical test to protect states' rights and prevent an overreach by the federal government into the lives of every citizen," said LoBiondo, who has always paid for his own healthcare insurance, and has never accepted the taxpayer-funded plan offered to Members of Congress. "I strongly support their legal challenge and sincerely hope the Supreme Court finds that the healthcare law fails the constitutional test.
"Many of the tax increases and penalties have yet to take effect while new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office conclude the final price-tag will exceed $2 trillion -- more than double what was initially reported."
Arguments are scheduled to begin next week with a decision expected to be delivered in June.
"Right now if you have a problem you get with your doctor and you make a decision," LoBiondo said. "Under the law, the independent advisory board is one of the hundred plus new boards and commissions, that are not mandated to be made up of health care professionals. This board will look at what health care has been provided and determine if it's appropriate for a doctor to operate on an 80-year-old, or should we give her comfort care?
"When it first came out, the president assured us that was not the case, but it certainly is. There's an awful lot riding on this decision. If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional, is the rest of the bill constitutional and can the rest of the bill be implemented since the mandate is such a big part of it? If it remains then, and you don't purchase insurance you're going to be fined. There will be thousands of new IRS agents blanketing the country to make sure you're in compliance."
Funding for the legislation also irks the congressman.
"The revenue component of the regulation will support $950 billion or so, which means when the bill is implemented it's not paid for," LoBiondo said. "So where is the additional revenue source coming from? They plan on raising taxes. That's why Paul Volker, the former head of the fed, floated an idea for a national sales tax, consumption tax. It's a horrible way to go. And, this will mostly fall on small businesses."
Stepping away from the healthcare legislation, regulation is also a problematic hindrance to business, according to LoBiondo.
"For businesses today, federal regulators have put such a clamp down, that if you're a business you almost have to prove that you don't need a loan to get a loan," LoBiondo said. "Washington has to let business do business."
Speaking of businesses, the rising price of gasoline hasn't gone unnoticed.
However, the congressman believes steps can be taken to help ease the cost.
"The other day the president's spokesperson Jay Carney said there really isn't anything the president can do," LoBiondo said. "That's totally false."
LoBiondo said the president could immediately lift the moratorium of drilling in the Gulf, which he believes would translate to thousands of jobs and huge amounts of domestically produced oil.
LoBiondo is also curious why the president hasn't approved the Keystone Pipeline. The pipeline would flow from Alberta, Canada, enter the United States in Montana and continue to multiple destinations in the United States, with a hub planned for Oklahoma.
"People say it's not our oil, it's oil from Canada," LoBiondo said. "I'd rather buy oil from Canada than from Venezuela. And if we don't do this they'll enter into a deal with China, which is already eating our lunch in a lot of ways to begin with. It'd be another billion barrels a day."
As for the price of gasoline at the pump, it's something that's baffled LoBiondo for a long time.
"The oil companies have been hauled before congressional committees and they're private companies and they make their decisions and no one has been able to prove there's been collusion," LoBiondo said. "But something is clearly wrong. I think it's a supply and demand."
LoBiondo said the nation uses the equivalent of 20 million barrels a day, while producing just 7-8 million barrels per day.
A few years back the United States was producing 10 million barrels per day, according to LoBiondo.
"Getting up to around 15 million barrels a day would make a big difference," LoBiondo said. "We're transferring our wealth to countries like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia who are not our friends. Discretionary spending is taking a big hit, spend that would stimulate the economy."
LoBiondo is convinced a good portion of the problem is speculation.
"Speculators are driving up the price," he said. "I think it's a minimum of $30 a barrel. I say if you want to speculate on oil futures, you must be able to accept delivery of at least part of what you're speculating. So, whatever the business is, that uses oil, diesel or gas."
Some other means LoBiondo mentioned to combat energy prices are to drill on some 65-68 million acres of land owned by the government that have been proven to have large deposits.
"That's where we should go first," he said. "Energy deposits in the west are estimated to be more than all of (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) put together. If we lift the moratorium it should spook the speculators and send a message saying we're serious about being self sufficient."
Another part of the problem with gasoline prices is that fact that the United States isn't the only game in town anymore when comes to oil consumption.
"Chinese and India economies are really soaring," LoBiondo said. "So their demand is up and that wasn't the case 15 years ago. Factor that in with countries like Iran that are so unstable, that's spooks the market."
Stay tuned to the Reminder for the congressman's view on: China relations, Iran's nuclear stance, and congressional battles
Read more: Reminder Newspaper - Congressman LoBiondo Addresses Economy and Other Hot Topics