As a service to its readers, New Jersey Jewish News in cooperation with the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey extended invitations to major party candidates to contribute to a 2010 Voters’ Guide.
Each candidate was asked to address the same questions on issues of concern to the Jewish community.
Running for District 12
Rep. Rush Holt (D) is serving his sixth term.
Businessman Scott Sipprelle (R ) lives in Princeton.
What is your position on ensuring the realization of peace between the Palestinians and Israelis? What efforts would you employ to encourage both or either side to remain at the negotiating table? What role do you see Congress playing to combat the well-financed and widespread campaign to delegitimize Israel?
Holt: Only a just, permanent, and peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians will ensure Israel’s security and prosperity as a Jewish democracy in the historical homeland of the Jewish people. It will take courage and sacrifice to secure a settlement that both guarantees Israel's security and establishes a viable Palestinian state. The greatest service the United States can provide to Israelis and Palestinians is as a facilitator of meaningful negotiations.
Israel has faced vicious attacks in the international sphere and these cannot be ignored. As many in the international community rushed to judge Israel’s actions in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident, I urged President Obama to “remain steadfast in the defense of Israel.” I am a cosponsor of a resolution urging the administration to maintain the fight against anti-Semitism as a U.S. foreign policy priority. After U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice voted against the Goldstone report resolution at the UN, I personally wrote to her in support of the vote and to express my concerns with the Goldstone Report’s biased conclusions. Congress must stand up for our friend and ally, Israel.
Sipprelle: I don't think we can make peace for them and certainly can't impose a solution from the outside. The approach of the current administration to hold talks regardless of the readiness of both sides to compromise has cheapened the value of U.S. intervention which should be a reward rather than a substitute for progress. I did learn something about negotiating in my business experience and it's clear to me that our incessant pleading for negotiation has only made the Palestinians more inflexible by conveying that the U.S. needs a peace agreement more than they do. The terrorist organization Hamas, representing many Palestinians, must go through a pacification process like postwar Germany and Japan before any real peace agreement would be possible. A peace agreement that is only binding on some Palestinians would be a sham and probably a prelude to war. The Palestinians have to get their own divided house in order before they can negotiate a meaningful peace with Israel.
It doesn't cost a cent for a congressman to tell a news organization, or any other entity that unfairly vilifies Israel, they are wrong. A congressman just has to care enough and have the courage to do it, and I certainly do.
The U.S. government believes that Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2012. What options will you support to address Iran’s nuclear efforts?
Holt: The provocative actions taken by the Iran regime to further their nuclear weapons program must be stopped. I cosponsored and voted for the toughest Iran sanctions in history, and I signed a letter urging the president to implement and execute these sanctions to the full extent of the law. As a result of these sanctions, companies around the world are severing their business ties with Iran and those that fail to do so will face penalties that isolate them from the international business community.
It is vital that we tackle this issue with our world partners, such as the European Union, which enacted tough sanctions of their own. For the first time in history, the strength and example of the United States has brought support from China and Russia for tough UN sanctions as a meaningful deterrent to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The money supply of the Iranian government is being cut off, and Iran will continue to face growing economic and political isolation until it complies with its obligations to the international community and verifiably ends any pursuit of nuclear weapons. The U.S. must continue to lead the world in holding Iran accountable for its dangerous actions.
Sipprelle: First, let’s be clear that America needs to respect Israel’s right to defend its citizens against a nuclear holocaust and also recognize that a nuclear-armed Iran is not only a mortal threat to Israel. It would threaten the stability of the entire Middle East, and ultimately our hemisphere as well. Of course, the military option must be on the table, but before we go there, I think it is time we wielded economic sanctions like the weapon it was meant to be. This means no legislative or diplomatic loopholes for certain countries that defeat the purpose of sanctions by removing their bite. Merely irritating and inconveniencing Iran will accomplish nothing. The sanctions will only work if the economic pain they cause exceeds Iran’s lust for power and regional dominance.
Unemployment in New Jersey has been hovering around 10 percent. What policies would you support to increase employment?
Holt: To get the economy moving, we need short-term planning that will create jobs now. I supported extending unemployment benefits for individuals looking for work and providing emergency funding to keep 3,000 New Jersey teachers in the classroom. I also helped pass immediate small business assistance — cutting taxes and increasing availability of credit for small business owners.
I support novel programs like the HomeStar Energy Retrofit Act, to provide incentives for home energy retrofits and increase demand in sectors of the future like solar power. I support a transportation infrastructure bank to increase employment in the construction industry and related sectors and repair our nation’s aging network of rail, roads, bridges, and tunnels.
Investment in research not only makes jobs in the short term, but also creates lasting jobs. I have fought for $22 billion in research funding in the Recovery Act and for modernizing and making permanent the research and development tax credit.
Sipprelle: America is in a jobs crisis that exceeds the official unemployment rate, since so many of the currently employed remain fearful of losing their jobs as well. Business growth is based on confidence in the future, with the decision to hire or expand often predicated on an expectation of a better business climate ahead. So the first step required for healing the job market is actually the easiest: remove the chokehold of policy uncertainty being created by our revenue-starved government. Faced with the threat of higher costs for energy, regulation, taxes, and healthcare, employers are deferring hiring decisions as long as possible. Halting all new threats to the corporate cost structure along with taking tangible steps to reduce our national debt would dramatically improve the disposition of businesses to hire. We need to take the dagger out of the back of our private sector.
Longer term, we need to help our U.S. companies compete for jobs in an increasingly global labor market. Simplifying the tax code by eliminating corporate credits and deductions in favor of reducing the corporate tax code to a globally-competitive 20 percent rate will enhance our ability to compete and create more high-paying jobs in America, while also motivating companies to relocate jobs back in America. A zero percent special capital gains rate for new start-ups in America would foster a new generation of entrepreneurship and innovation to create the jobs and industries of tomorrow in America. We also need to reform our education system to enhance our proficiency in the skills required of a 21st-century workforce. Clamping down on illegal immigration through employer sanctions and border enforcement will create more jobs at higher wages for our native-born poor.
Federal energy policy must take into account calls for energy independence, concerns about global climate change, environmental protection, and domestic energy production. Do you think an energy bill would be important at this time, and what provisions would you make the highest priority?
Holt: Our dependence on fossil fuels is a serious threat to our national security, our economy, and our environment. Every day, we spend about one billion dollars on foreign oil that pollutes our air, leaves us vulnerable to price spikes, and often finances rogue regimes or terrorist enterprises. Those funds should be spent rebuilding our economy and putting Americans to work in domestic clean energy industries.
I am a leading champion in Congress for a sustainable energy policy that will end our over reliance on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy. I voted to reduce our carbon emissions by 80 percent, ensure that 20 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources, and make historic investments in energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
The core of our energy policy must be a focus on clean energy innovation. As the former assistant director of the largest renewable energy research facility in New Jersey, I know that America can lead the 21st-century clean energy economy. We must expand research and development in the energy sciences, incentivize commercialization of groundbreaking discoveries, and reward deployment of sustainable energy technologies. Clean energy innovation will make us safer, reduce our energy costs, protect our environment, and grow our economy.
Sipprelle: I do not support the efforts of the current Congress to pass a Cap & Trade bill. This economically destructive piece of legislation will lead to soaring energy and utility costs and large job losses as utilities are forced to change their means of power production away from fossil fuels. This energy cost inflation will hit American businesses and consumers at a time we can least afford it. The most dramatic impact we can make to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and imported oil is to re-assert our national commitment to plentiful, clean, and cheap nuclear power. An improved climate for entrepreneurship, investment, and capital formation will also make a significant contribution to energy independence by accelerating the growth of alternative energy sources (fuel cells, solar, wind) over the medium to longer term.
During these difficult economic times, nonprofits are called upon to increase their services to those in need. What tax policies will you support to encourage charitable giving?
Holt: Deductions for charitable giving normally save taxes at the marginal tax rate. If a taxpayer's top bracket is 35 percent, a dollar of deduction would lower taxes by 35 cents. Last year, the administration proposed capping the value of itemized deductions for high income taxpayers. Congress did not take up this proposal. I support the current law on the books, which helps direct an estimated $50 billion to charities and nonprofit institutions.
Sipprelle: We must maintain the deduction for charitable contributions in order to maintain the critical funding for charitable endeavors. Ultimately, having the funding required for non-profits to continue their important work will require a committed and sensible plan to revive economic growth and jobs in America. Only a prosperous country can remain a truly charitable one. We also need to encourage and foster a stronger sense of community-based volunteerism and private charity to support those in need.
What changes would you support, if any, in the Medicaid program so that New Jersey can make home and community-based care more accessible to those who are in need of it, particularly for long-term care services?
Holt: I support policies that will make it easier for New Jerseyans to receive home and community-based care. While the majority of Medicaid long-term dollars still go toward institutional care, the percentage of spending on home and community-based services has more than doubled. The new health-reform legislation includes a number of provisions that will make home and community-based care more accessible. First, health reform increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for primary care doctors to Medicare rates. This will ensure better access to primary care physicians. Second, health reform establishes a Community First Option in Medicaid. This new program, which starts in 2011, will give New Jersey more federal funding to provide Medicaid patients with home and community-based services.
Health reform also includes support for Community Health Centers. This new funding will help the 134 Community Health Centers in New Jersey provide more accessible care to people in the community. Finally, health reform creates a new national, voluntary long-term insurance program, the CLASS Act, that helps people pay for non-medical expenses, like home care services. These upcoming changes will help make sure that all New Jerseyans have the option of aging in place and must be protected.
Sipprelle: I am a large believer that all federal programs should be under constant reassessment, in order to determine whether they are achieving their purpose in the most effective and efficient way possible. Results matter, and they need to be measured in both financial and human terms. Home- and community-care innovations in the Medicaid program represent sensible alternatives to the standard of facilities-based programs and I would support these changes in concept, subject to additional review and assessment.