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Incumbent Holt: GOP Policies Turning American Dream into a ‘Mirage’

But 12th District challenger insists less government, spending cuts will foster prosperity.

Candidates in the 12th Congressional District all say they want to take the nation in a new direction.

Rush Holt, Democratic Congressman for the 12th District.
Credit: Amanda Brown
Rush Holt, Democratic Congressman for the 12th District.

For the Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, that means using government to help the middle class and not return to what he calls the failed policies of past Republican administrations. The Hopewell Township resident advocates federal investment in infrastructure and education, and believes government must play a role in reversing climate change

Republican Eric Beck, his chief challenger, says he wants government to get out of the way of business. The South Brunswick resident supports a 15 percent flat tax, repealing the Affordable Care Act – known informally as Obamacare -- and cutting federal spending.

Eric Beck, Republican challenger in the 12th Congressional District.
Eric Beck, Republican challenger in the 12th Congressional District.

The two independent candidates, Kenneth Cody of Lawrenceville and Jack Freudenheim of Plainfield, say they want to break what they call the partisan deadlock in Congress. Cody would encourage the creation of “green” jobs and fight to eliminate money from the political process.

Both Cody and Freudenheim support the Affordable Care Act and the American Jobs Act, the Obama administration’s economic-stimulus initiative.

Holt, 64, said the policies being pushed by Republicans in recent years amount to an assault on the middle class. The American Dream, he says, “seems more like a mirage” and “something unobtainable for most families.”

“This is not an accident,” he said in a response to our candidate questionnaire. “It is the result of policy choices pushed by the most extreme and the well-funded special interests—to make the playing field less fair, less level, less open. To cut taxes on the most privileged and powerful, and to slash consumer protection while letting Wall Street, Big Oil, and insurance companies run free.

“That’s wrong. That’s inefficient. That’s unfair. The American Dream belongs to all of us – and you and I are not going to give up on it.”

Holt lists as his top priority the creation of jobs “by supporting small businesses with an investment tax credit and providing direct investments to build schools and bridges and keep our first responders on the street.”

He supports the American Jobs Act, and opposes Simpson-Bowles—the deficit reduction report released by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. The commission report was not officially endorsed by the commission.

“Now is the time to make direct investments to keep cops on the beat, teachers in the classroom, and researchers in the lab,” Holt said. “We must also help put people to work with investments in job training programs and tax credits for hiring unemployed workers. Going forward, we must invest in education, infrastructure, and innovation.”

He says the austerity program being proposed by House Republicans could further damage the economy.

“Some believe we need only cut taxes and regulations, and jobs will magically appear,” he said. “However, we tried that formula, and it’s what got us into the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

Beck calls the Simpson-Bowles recommendations “a good starting point for bipartisan discussion on how to approach balancing the federal budget and reforming entitlements.”

The American Jobs Act, he said, contradicts this and is “simply more government spending that will not boost the economy and create jobs” but will “have exactly the opposite effect on the economy while adding to the federal debt.”

His focus would be on spending cuts, including pushing for a two-year cap on defense spending, zero-based budgeting, a constitutional review of all federal government functions, and “entitlement reform.”

“Entitlement reforms for Social Security and Medicare should protect current retirees and workers 55 years of age and older,” he said. “However, benefit programs for younger workers will need to be reformed. Social Security's problem is largely one of demographics. Therefore, we should begin pushing back the qualifying retirement age for younger workers immediately to increase the ratio of workers-to-recipients. Medicare reforms should include premium subsidies as originally proposed by Alice Rivlin of the Clinton Administration, and now adopted by Gov. Romney, while protecting traditional Medicare as an option. Means testing of Medicare may also be required to reduce aggregate program costs.”

The ACA, or Obamacare, is helping to drive up health costs, he said.

“The underlying health care delivery system will need to be reformed if we are to contain health care inflation,” he said. “Repealing Obamacare and encouraging the adoption of value-based health-care reforms are the only realistic way to curb health-care inflation while expanding the availability of services for Medicare and the broader health-care delivery system.”

These could include free clinics and allowing states to “experiment with different approaches to health-service delivery,” which could be “enabled by block granting Medicaid funding.” to the states. Finally, he said public subsidy should be considered to provide major medical insurance coverage for families without coverage.

Holt both voted for the ACA and continues to support it.

“I voted for health reform to help middle-class families and individuals in New Jersey who play by the rules and still find health coverage out of reach,” he said. “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that health-care reform will reduce the federal deficit while providing coverage to 33 million Americans who are living without health insurance. Furthermore, the health-reform law will make insurance more affordable by reducing premium costs for tens of millions of families and small business owners. The law was passed by both houses, signed by the President and validated by the Supreme Court as constitutional. It’s the law, and it is working.”

Cody, one of the independents, said he supports the health-care reform legislation.

“This act contains many cost-cutting features,” he said. “It has an investment in prevention. It contains programs that will be available to educate the public on ways to prevent illness and make for a healthier life. Also it will reimburse providers based on the quality of care they provide and set new rules that hold insurers accountable. Young adults can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 and new tax credits that can provide relief for small businesses. This can help millions of Americans gain access to quality and affordable health insurance. The uninsured can benefit with this plan that will set up competitive private health insurance exchanges, where uninsured individuals and small businesses can work together to buy coverage. Also, Medicaid will be expanded. The Affordable Care Act will be beneficial to New Jerseyans and Americans for years to come.”

Freudenheim agrees.

“I would not vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” he said “I would work to improve it, make changes where necessary, and focus on the aspects of the act that are morally and fiscally prudent. I would work with promoting affordable programs that will assure proper health care is available to all, whether acquired individually or through assistance programs where necessary. In addition, I will work to cure the rising cost of healthcare by identifying financial waste in our system.”

He said the American Jobs Act was necessary “in this time of need under the current fiscal crisis our country is facing.”

“When the private sector is faltering, it is up to the federal government to step in,” he said. “However, when the private sector is more stable, consumer confidence is reassured, and the economy starts to provide the stability needed in our society, at that point, government should step out and focus back on its fiscal responsibilities and pay down our debt, maintain national security and foreign relations.”

Cody supports the jobs bill as a way to “create work for Americans who need it most,” but says it might not be big enough.

“Spending $50 billion on both new and pre-existing infrastructure projects will create over 2 million jobs for unemployed construction workers who will upgrade our bridges, roads, railroads, waterways, and ports,” he said. “Small businesses will have taxes reduced so they will grow while being able to afford new hires. Additional funding will go to protecting the jobs of police officers, firefighters and teachers. The American Jobs Act will help our economy while lowering the unemployment rate.”

Cody said he supports elements of the Simpson-Bowles plan—the end to tax loopholes and the imposition of a carbon tax—but he opposes changes in Social Security retirement benefits.

“What can help our budget immediately is ending the war in Afghanistan,” which has cost $450 billion to date, he said. “I am a proud supporter of our troops and military. However, it is time for Afghanistan to put in place a government and take responsibility.”

Hank Kalet is a veteran journalist and editor, who has covered economic issues, government, and entertainment in central New Jersey for more than two decades.

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