Sharp disagreements over health care and the role of government in fixing a troubled economy dominated an hour-long debate Oct. 17 as Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-Dist. 11) took on challengers from the Left and Right.
The eight-term incumbent repeatedly attacked Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the health-care bill in polite dialogue with Democratic challenger Douglas Herbert of Chatham and Libertarian Party candidate James Gawron of Denville.
The debate was broadcast from the Cedar Knolls studio of radio station WMTR-AM.
“The people are concerned about the economy, they are concerned about jobs, they are concerned about the government takeover of health care, and they are concerned about the president and Nancy Pelosi apologizing for our role as a superpower,” said Frelinghuysen.
“I would like to remind the congressman he is running against Jim and me, and not against Nancy Pelosi or the president,” Herbert retorted as he advocated assistance to small businesses to help create more jobs.
“When we do this, the economy will begin to grow,” Herbert said.
“Government continues to grow,” Gawron said. “It doesn’t seem to matter which of the two parties is elected; it continues to be more involved in our lives.”
A caller who identified himself as a Frelinghuysen supporter in past elections expressed concern that the congressman voted in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a Bush administration bill authorizing the government to purchase assets of failing financial institutions.
“Both President Obama and President Bush felt if we did not vote for it we’d have a financial catastrophe of the worst kind,” Frelinghuysen explained.
“I would not have voted for TARP,” said Herbert. “However, the issue of stimulus comes up. That is a very important thing to do to keep America working,”
“I believe that either stimulus-type programs and any sort of government involvement in industry is wrong-headed,” argued Gawron.
Questioned about cap-and-trade proposals, which reward industries in the fight against global warming, Herbert said, “We have to invest in greening America. There is a green revolution coming, and if we don’t meet this green revolution, it is going to be China that does.”
Gawron, consistently taking a strong stand against government intervention, called cap-and-trade “a disaster. Regulating carbon dioxide emissions is ridiculous.”
Frelinghuysen also opposed the subsidy. The cap-and-trade approach, he said, “is a $3,200 tax bill for American families.”
Frelinghuysen was also critical of the Obama administration’s health-care reform law.
“Obamacare is a huge takeover of decisions that should be made between doctors and their patients,” he said.
Frelinghuysen vowed to support repeal of the legislation. “It raises taxes close to $600 million. You don’t raise taxes in a recession,” he said.
“Please note it is called ‘health-care reform,’ not Obamacare,” countered Herbert, who told the audience he watched several people at a pharmacy unable to pay for medicines “in the sixth-richest county in this country.”
A caller asked why Frelinghuysen supported 12-year term limits when he first ran for the House but has now been in office since 1995.
“I feel it is important to have members of Congress who have experience. My term in Congress has helped New Jersey considerably,” he responded.
Asked by a caller why he voted against legislation that extended federal loans to small businesses, Frelinghuysen answered, “It was a $30 billion bill, all with borrowed money. We already have enough debt.”
But, Herbert countered, “this bill is exactly what small business needs to get America working again.”
Wrapping up his remarks, Herbert said, “I grew up in an America where if you worked hard and you studied, America would provide you with the opportunity for success. Unfortunately America is changing, and it is not so.”
“If you think government needs to be less involved in your life, I am a good choice for you,” Gawron said, summing up his position.
“We are at a major crossroads and I think we have been going in the wrong direction,” said Frelinghuysen. “This is a time for change, and the problems we face require Republicans and Democrats working together. That’s what I look forward to doing.”