Geography — more than party — often dictates politics, according to U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey’s District 7.
The legislator cited as an example the bipartisan effort — which he has championed — for abolishing the ethanol subsidy and the bipartisan pushback from the Midwestern states that grow corn.
Defending his long-held reputation as a GOP moderate — and parrying criticism that Congress is incapable of compromise — has become a recent priority for the sophomore Republican, in both town hall meetings and in face-to-face interviews with the local media.
In an Aug. 25 meeting with NJ Jewish News editorial staff in their Whippany office, he cited his own and his colleagues’ support for the recent debt ceiling agreement and three compromise budget deals worked out before that as examples that reports of the death of bipartisanship have been greatly exaggerated.
He also insisted that his reputation as a pro-choice Republican was intact despite his vote to end funding for Planned Parenthood, saying that the federal government should not be funding abortion and that the organization should separate its family planning services from its abortion services.
Lance also defended his support for earmarks funding social service programs, including a series of grants for Naturally Occurring Retiring Committees in New Jersey overseen by Jewish institutions. Lance’s district bridges Union, Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon counties
“We have to understand that everyone is in for a ‘hair cut,’ but programs like these should flourish in a fair analysis,” said Lance, a consistent champion of fiscal responsibility who sits on the Congressional Energy and Commerce Committee. With earmarks abolished, he said, “over time, we will be able to present proposals like that to the appropriate agencies.”
His only sharp rebuke of President Barack Obama came in the discussion of the budget issues. Lance described him as if “he’s an ostrich with his head in the sand,” putting forward a budget that was rejected 97-0 by the Senate. “It’s always easy to be critical of someone else’s proposals when you aren’t putting forward any of your own,” he said, somewhat turning the tables on what has been a Democratic critique of Republicans over the past two years.
While he said he wished that the debt ceiling agreement had been achieved a month earlier than was accomplished, he pointed out that it led to the creation of the bipartisan “Super Committee,” with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Picking his words with care, he said he is “not pessimistic” about its chances of coming up with recommendations before the November deadline.
What the economy needs more than anything, he stressed, is “certainty.” Individual Americans and businesses, he said, want to be able to anticipate their tax bills and the kinds of regulations they will have to meet, especially when it comes to new health care legislation. Lance, who is a lawyer, avoided comment on “Obama Care” but said he has cosponsored a call to the Supreme Court to rule one way or the other on its constitutionality as soon as October.
‘A generation’s notice’
Contrary to what some suggest, he said, Social Security has not been the subject of debate in Congress. Some cutback is unavoidable, he stated — especially given the increase in life expectancy — if the system is to survive. While “it would be bitterly unfair to delay payments for someone who is now in mid-career,” he said he sees nothing wrong in giving “a generation’s notice” to people like his son, who is now 24, that payments might not start until age 67 or later.
He declared himself unwavering in his opposition to raising tax rates, but very much in favor of “increasing revenue.” There are “great assets on the side, not being used,” he said. He would like to see a “repatriation” of funds earned by multi-national firms abroad, to foster job creation at home.
Perhaps most telling was his response to a question about the current lineup of potential Republican presidential candidates.
“If he decided to run, I would definitely support Gov. Chris Christie,” he said, pointing out that it is 100 years since American last elected a president from New Jersey — Woodrow Wilson. “If he doesn’t — well, I supported Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008 and I was extremely impressed with him. He campaigned twice for me — he knows who I am.”
As for Tea Party favorites Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Lance stated that he knows Perry and has traveled to Israel with Bachmann, “who is a very strong supporter of Israel,” as he is.
Asked what he thinks of them as candidates, he stated with inscrutable calm, “I think you understand that I’ve answered your question.”
That is not to say he eschews contact with the Tea Party or rejects its positions. On June 9, he addressed a town hall meeting in Westfield sponsored by local Tea Party members. He credited the party with stirring the very necessary debate on the budget deficit and fiscal responsibility. The town hall meeting was also attended by the members of the liberal group MoveOn.org. The debate that ensued, he suggested, can be credited to the Tea Party’s having raised the issue.
Lance insisted that the much-discussed partisan schism is more a figment of the media and its 24-hour cable news cycle than a reality in Washington or elsewhere. His tone was fiercer on this than on any other topic raised, as he carefully kept both Fox and MSNBC in his line of fire.
“I’m greatly concerned about the media,” he said. He blamed the “cat-and-dog” atmosphere of antagonism on “feisty, talking-head pundits who carry on about these things while ordinary Americans are struggling to put food on the table, provide education for their children, and keep a roof over their heads.”
Support for Israel is another area of general agreement in Congress, Lance said. He is generally supportive of the president’s foreign policy moves, believing that “bickering should stop at the water’s edge,” and supported the role the United States has taken in Libya where others in his party have not. He said, as he has before, that he would have preferred a more aggressive approach to sanctions against Iran.
With regard to the expected effort by the Palestinian leadership to seek statehood recognition from the United Nations this fall, Lance said he still supports a two-state solution made conditional on the Palestinians’ recognition of Israel and its right not only to exist, but to exist as a Jewish state.