The austerity budget proposed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan took center stage in an hour-long debate between Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen and John Arvanites, the Morristown Democrat who is seeking to replace him in New Jersey’s District 11.
Although the district covers heavily Republican areas of Morris County, its new lines include such traditionally Democratic towns as Montclair, West Orange, and Bloomfield.
Seated across a table in the studio of Cedar Knolls radio station WMTR-AM on Oct. 21, the two men clashed — heatedly at times — over the fiscal plan drafted by Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee.
The so-called “Ryan Budget” would repeal the Affordable Heath Care Act, privatize Medicare for people younger than 55, and make severe cuts in non-defense spending.
Frelinghuysen voted twice in favor of the proposal, which Arvanites opposes.
Both men said they view unemployment as the country’s most serious issue.
“We need to get Americans back to work, we need to get government out of the way, and we need to get away from oppressive taxes,” said Frelinghuysen.
Countered Arvanites: “My opponent for the past couple of years has been going extreme right with the Tea Party Republicans, voting lockstep with them…. The current House of Representatives, including Rep. Frelinghuysen, has utterly and completely failed us. In fact, this is the most dysfunctional House of Representatives in 40 years.”
Frelinghuysen characterized the Affordable Care Act as “taking over one sixth of the American economy, invading the doctor-patient relationship, and doing nothing about tort reform.” He added: “That bill has caused more anger and concern in small businesses and large businesses in our backyard here…. It is dragging down the economy and promoting uncertainty.”
Arvanites defended the reform. “This plan stops insurance companies from denying coverage,” he said, citing a friend with breast cancer “who can now get the care she needs to save her life.”
Urging greater federal support for middle-class economic needs, Arvanites attacked Frelinghuysen for opposing emergency mortgage relief, neighborhood stabilization programs, and Pell Grants that provide tuition aid to needy college students.
“I agree with my opponent that we need to support public education. I have always been a supporter of Pell Grants,” Frelinghuysen replied.
“Congressman Frelinghuysen has supported the Paul Ryan budget twice, which guts Pell Grants,” said Arvanites.
“The Ryan Budget is not law, and obviously, not every aspect of the Ryan Budget is sacrosanct,” Frelinghuysen said later.
The Ryan proposal was passed by the Republican-controlled House in 2011 by a vote of 235 to 193, but failed in the Democratic-majority Senate by 57 to 40.
‘Beyond the Dream Act’
The opponents clashed again when the discussion turned to the Dream Act, which would permit undocumented high school graduates to attend college or enter military service as a path to citizenship.
“I don’t think it’s fair to American students who’ve been here to have others be out in front of them,” said Frelinghuysen.
“Our immigration system is broken,” said Arvanites in support of the Dream Act. “But we need to go with reforms beyond the Dream Act. We need to bring undocumented individuals out of the shadows.”
Asked by moderator Julie Briggs “how do we reverse the slide of the middle class?” Arvanites said, “We have to make sure we have equal pay for equal work for women,” noting that Frelinghuysen had voted against such measures.
The Republican said: “I have supported the Equal Rights Amendment since the mid-1970s when I was a freeholder. I think my record has been a strong one.”
But, he acknowledged, “there have been a few blips on the screen” when he voted for some measures meant to protect “some firms and businesses at risk” from financial penalties for past hiring and compensation practices that discriminated against women.
In one heated exchange, Arvanites accused Frelinghuysen of running away from his record.
“You say one thing and you do something else,” said Arvanites. “You vote for something and say you didn’t. You vote for something and say, ‘It didn’t become law anyway.’ So I don’t understand.”
He would, said Frelinghuysen, if “maybe, John, with all due respect, you would understand the appropriations process,” said Frelinghuysen, pointing out that he chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies.
“I am heavily involved in real bills,” he said. “The real work of Congress — and it has been bipartisan — has been the 10 appropriations bills passed. I have been intimately involved in three of those — defense, homeland security, and energy and water. The passage of those bills minimizes anything you are talking about here.”