CLARK, NJ – Representative Leonard Lance (R-07), 7th Congressional District incumbent, squared off against Republican primary challenger David Larsen in a debate held Wednesday, May 28th, at the Holiday Inn in Clark.
The debate was co-sponsored by the Gateway Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Clark Chamber of Commerce. Gateway President Jim Coyle moderated the debate. Questions focused specifically on issues that concerned the business community: health care, transportation, energy, the Federal deficit and tax policy.
In his opening remarks, Congressman Lance attributed the challenges facing small businesses to high taxes, red tape, overregulation, federal spending and rising energy prices. He supports policies that jump start the economy and said, “We know that small business is the economic engine that keeps our country moving.”
Larsen cited government spending and debt as primary issues facing small business and said he is concerned with the direction the country and economy are taking. “I am here because I want to make a difference, a difference for my country,” he said.
Both candidates endorsed the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and stated that future healthcare policy must address tort reform. Each one rejects a mandated single-payer system. Lance seeks to replace the ACA with alternative legislation that would permit purchase of policies across state lines, health savings accounts, and pooling for small businesses. He encouraged building on the model of employer-based health insurance.
Larsen said he supports HR3121 which calls for the repeal of Obamacare in its entirety. The bill provides access to portable healthcare insurance by standard deduction, similar to a voucher system, healthcare insurance savings accounts and high risk pools to provide care to Americans who have health issues.
“I’m against Obamacare,” Larsen said, “not only because it’s a tax, but it’s the takeover of one-sixth of our economy and it is access to everybody’s personal information. In my opinion, it’s a socialist agenda that should be defunded immediately and repealed.”
On the subject of the transportation infrastructure, both candidates cited deficiencies in the Highway Trust Funds. Larsen stated that infrastructure repairs should be left to the states, and that the states should be allowed to find creative ways to raise funds to fix their roads. In response to a follow-up question, Larsen cited electronic tolling and increased drilling for oil and gas.
Lance indicated that a modern and efficient national transportation system is critically important to the business community. “In Congress,” he said, “I have focused on strengthening America’s transportation network to make it more efficient, more competitive and more prosperous.” He would generate revenue for the highway trust funds through expanded drilling for natural gas. “I think that is the way to increase the trust fund, and I am opposed to increasing the gas tax,” he said. Lance called for reform of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in a discussion of fraud, waste and abuse.
The Congressman then vehemently defended the Lance Amendment, a measure passed during his time in the New Jersey Senate that forbids the state to borrow funds without specific approval by the voters. Of the amendment he said: “One of the proudest accomplishments of my life, is the Lance Amendment. Now we can no longer borrow in New Jersey because of my amendment. It took a great deal of effort to get it through tthe Democratically controlled legislature. It passed in every one of the 566 municipalities in the state.”
Talk then turned to government debt, the deficit and government spending.
Lance supported the Paul Ryan budget that called for a balanced budget over a 10-year time period. “This is one of most critical issues confronting the nation and we have got to get back to a place where we have our budget in order, where revenues meet the expenditures of the nation,” Lance said. He attributed reductions in the deficits to Republican control of the House of Representatives.
Larsen, who called the annual deficit “appalling” and “unbelievable,” said that a balanced budget amendment is likely the only way to proceed, “To force these guys to stop sticking their hands in our pockets.” He said the Ryan budget fell short in not calling for an immediate balanced budget.
Both men referred back to Ronald Reagan: Larsen on the subject of promised future spending cuts, Lance in a defense of debt ceiling increases tied to reforms and corresponding spending cuts.
When asked if the economy would be hurt by a refusal to increase the debt ceiling, Larsen responded, “We do not have a money problem in this country, we have a wisdom problem. There is plenty of money coming into the purse. We are spending in areas where we have no reason to be.” Larsen then called for a flatter, fairer tax system and a reduction in the Internal Revenue Service.
Coyle asked Larsen about the environmental cost of fracking and drilling. Larsen responded, “America’s prosperity, her path to recovery has a lot to do with drilling for oil and gas.” After sharing a story about two nephews who moved to the Dakotas to work in the oil fields, Larsen said, “Petroleum is everywhere, you bet it’s worth the risk. Fracking has been debunked as far as being bad for the economy. We need to drill baby, drill and usher in a boom in this economy.”
Lance endorsed a free-market approach to renewable energy sources and said, “Newer forms of energy will be coming on line, and I favor those, but I do not want to subsidize them from the taxpayers’ point of view.” He called for an increase in natural gas production and sees it as a method to achieve energy independence from foreign fossil fuel sources and a matter of national security. He went on to say that the development of the Keystone Pipeline is essential to the nation’s energy policy.
The final questions were in regard to tax policy. Lance referred again to Reagan in discussing a two-tier tax rate system and said he would endorse a return to that tax method. He would maintain deductions for charitable contributions, state and local taxes and mortgage interest.
Lance called for reform of the corporate tax rates. He quoted the current rate of 35 percent to be higher than that of other nations. “I favor a territorial system at the corporate level, where if a company earns profits abroad, and they’re taxed abroad, then those profits can be brought back home to create American jobs without paying the differential that now exists between the lower rate abroad and the higher corporate tax rate in this country,” he said.
Larsen cited the size of the IRS code and the role of special interest groups as problems in the tax system. He called for a flatter, fairer tax system and dramatic cuts to the IRS.
The candidates were asked to include a discussion of the role of government in peoples’ lives in their summations.
Lance said that problems should be solved by the government closest to the people at the municipal, county or state level. He stated, “The responsibility of the federal government is for the defense of the United States.” He cited the economy as the greatest issue confronting the nation today and that competition from rising foreign powers will be the greatest issue for the next generation.
“The government’s role is what the Constitution says and only what the Constitution says,” Larsen said. “The government’s role has expanded disproportionally,” he continued, “The Constitution was written to limit the powers of government, not you. For some reason, it’s been twisted on its ear.” He stressed his experience as a businessman and his understanding of the needs of small business.
The debate concluded with a handshake between the two candidates. The primary election will be held on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.