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Economy, Role of Government Key Issues in 5th Congressional District

As in most campaigns across New Jersey — and the country — the main issue in the 5th Congressional District race is the economy.

Adam Gussen

But in a newly redrawn district that is slightly less Republican than its previous incarnation, Democratic challenger Adam Gussen is painting incumbent Republican Rep. Scott Garrett as an extreme conservative on all issues.

“He’s a radical,” said Gussen of Garrett, with “a reactionary ideology on both financial and social issues.”

Garrett dismisses such assertions, citing his work on the bipartisan JOBS Act and his focus on budget and economic issues.

“I was invited to the White House by President Obama to be there for the (JOBS) bill signing.” Garrett said. The bill was “bipartisan piece of legislation from the beginning.”

Rep. Scott Garrett

Garrett said the act was a conglomeration of bills, the majority of which had made it through his committees -- he is vice chair of the House Budget Committee and chair of the Subcommittee on Capital Markets, Insurance, and Government-Sponsored Entities.

Garrett, who is seeking his sixth term in the U.S. House of Representatives, is viewed as having a strong chance for re-election, running in a mostly Republican district as an incumbent against a little-known challenger who has struggled to raise funds. Green Party candidate Patricia Alessandrini is also on the ballot.

As of Sept. 30, Garrett had a massive financial advantage over his competitors, with more than $2.3 million on hand. Gussen had raised just $22,400, with $6,100 available, and Alessandrini has not raised any money.Gussen is hoping to exploit Garrett's reputation as a conservative to draw more moderate Republican voters, as well as attract his own Democratic base.

On issues both economic and social, Garrett is viewed as the most conservative congressman from New Jersey, and one of the most conservative in the country. Garrett currently has a 99.5 percent lifetime rating with www.conservative.org.

“Garrett has a disdain and distrust for government and a desire to dismantle it," he said.

Garrett, on the other hand, touted his bipartisan bona fides.

Issues of the economy and job creation “hit at the heart of the issues facing the country today,” he said. His work on the committees is “making sure we get some certainty back in the financial markets, making sure that businesses know what the rules are going to be and can make decisions to start hiring again.”

Gussen said he is also bullish on job creation.

“We need to put Americans back to work,” he said. “First and foremost we need to address the growing number of American companies moving jobs overseas.”

Gussen said he wants to discourage such moves through taxation and other disincentives. He said that he also wants to provide incentives to create more jobs and reinvestment here.

“We have the ability to do that,” said Gussen, citing GM and Chrysler, which were in deep financial trouble but are now “thriving,” along with subsidiary businesses, due to government intervention.

Gussen contends that Garrett’s “anti-government” bent hurts the economy. For instance, he said that Garrett voted against continued funding for the Commerce Department’s import-export bank last May.

“His radical right wing ideology regardless of impact on the economy is striking,” Gussen said. “He is aggressively pursuing smaller government regardless of whether it impacts 3,600 small businesses or kills 3,000 manufacturing jobs.”

Alessandrini declined to discuss her views with NJ Spotlight. Her platform, as posted on the New Menu website that highlights Green candidates, lists several positions on the economy, including support for increasing the minimum wage, higher taxes for corporations and those earning more than $250,000, and a federal program giving the unemployed jobs on "necessary public projects and community services."

During the campaign, Gussen has brought up the comments of Senate candidate Todd Akin regarding “legitimate rape.” On his campaign website, Gussen calls for Garrett to reject such comments, but Garrett has resisted being drawn into the conversation.

“I’ll leave it to the good people of Missouri to make their decision on their senate race,” Garrett said. “I’ll also leave it to the people of Bergen County to make their decision on Senate races and congressional races and freeholder races here.”

Gussen continues to bring up the social issues, however, highlighting Garrett’s co-sponsorship of H.R. 3, the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” The original version of that bill allowed an exception for "forcible rape" and incest involving a minor; the current bill allows for federal funds to be used in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

“He’s waging a war on women over the full range of reproductive health care options,” said Gussen of Garrett. “It’s offensive — the idea that access to care would be limited for my wife or my daughter. It’s offensive across the board. I think it resonates. As voters in this district understand Scott Garrett and his positions, the greater the likelihood that they will seek other options besides Scott Garrett.”

The difference between the candidates is very clear on the Affordable Care Act of 2010 — otherwise known as Obamacare.

“I voted probably two dozen times to repeal it,” said Garrett. “It was flawed from the beginning, as the people who supported it really didn’t understand what was in it.”

The ACA “would not actually lower the cost of health care to anyone. That’s being proven by the fact that insurance rates continue to go up astronomically,” he continued. “We know also that it’s not actually lowering the cost of health care itself, that it’s actually adding more burdens to the system. And it’s going to be a failed system that’s going to put the burdens on seniors.”

“It’s not perfect, but it goes a long way,” countered Gussen, saying the legislation has already had a positive impact on families across the district. For instance, he said insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for pre-existing conditions and lifetime medical care can no longer be capped. The bill also closed "prescription drug loopholes” and gave 32 million more Americans access to health care.

“I think Mr. Garrett and I have a different command of arithmetic,” Gussen said in response to Garrett’s contention that the ACA would not lower the cost of health insurance.

“If you had someone who in years past didn’t have access to health care, their recourse was the most expensive health care possible,” Gussen said, referring to emergency room care. “You now have a situation where the cost-effective availability of health care will ultimately bring down the cost of health care. I think arguments otherwise are specious at best.” Alessandrini's platform states she supports "Medicare for all with savings of billions by cutting out the profits and administrative expenses of insurance companies and pharmaceuticals."

The Green candidate wrote that she supports forgiving student loan debt greater than $10,000.Garrett wants the federal government to get out of education.

“On the federal level, I have legislation that would return education back to local level controls, so that the teachers, the school boards, the parents would be put back in charge," Garrett said. “I never did support President Bush’s No Child Left Behind. I think that the federal government has become being way too intrusive on regulating teachers and local education.”

“Pedagogical decisions shouldn’t be left to politicians," Gussen said. “If we want our schools to produce creative independent thinkers and problem solvers and young people committed to life-long learning, then a lot of our policies are not geared toward that."

Mary Barr Mann is a freelance writer and reporter living in New Jersey. Recently, she worked as the Associate Regional Editor for Patch.com in Union County.

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