Potosnak, Lance Spar in First Debate
Congressional candidates address issues ranging from the economy to transportation.
Republican U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance faced off against his Democratic opponent, Ed Potosnak, Monday morning in the first of two debates between the men seeking to represent New Jersey's seventh congressional district.
For 90 minutes, the candidates traded barbs on a variety of issues from federal taxation policy to transportation to assault weapons to small business. The debate was sponsored and moderated by the League of Women Voters. Questions came from a list distributed to local League chapters nationally for all congressional debates and submitted by the in-studio audience at the Scotch Plains television station.
Both candidates stuck closely to their platforms and previous statements on policy area. Lance talked about his belief that there is an uncertainty in the economy and promoting the benefits of a Republican led Congress, while Potosnak called the incumbent a career politician who has not accomplished much in Congress.
Differences emerged quickly between the two candidates and their stances on federal aid to education. Potosnak stressed his background as a teacher in Bridgewater and criticized Lance for voting against a bill to provide money to the states to hire additional teachers. Lance spent most of his time explaining his belief that education policy is best left to state governments and noting that he believed the education bill was not properly funded by the federal government.
In terms of the pending reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind education law, Lance said he is looking for a bill that would allow teachers to move away from the teaching to the test concept, along with providing more resources for parents. Lance spent part of his time embracing an icon of the national education reform movement.
"I am very disappointed that Michelle Rhee will no longer be in charge of education in the District of Columbia and we need reformers like that," he said.
Potosnak stressed that Rhee is not a New Jersey educator and spent most of his time criticizing Lance for his vote on the teacher bill. Lance reiterated his opposition to the bill based on the funding formula that did not have the bill funded immediately, along with cutting funding from food stamps, areas Potosnak expressed disagreement with.
"My opponent has latched on to an agenda that cuts funding for public education," he said.
Potosnak and Lance showcased differing viewpoints over the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which allows for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns without disclosure. Lance depicted the issue as a freedom of speech case, saying that he agreed with the Court's decision. Potosnak voiced opposition to the decision, saying that it will allow candidates, including Lance to not report funding from the industries they are regulating. Lance jabbed back at Potosnak that the ruling also includes unions that have been supporting the Democrat.
The two used the question to battle over contributions from the financial services sector, with Potosnak saying that Lance has accepted contributions from industries regulated by the financial services committee he serves on. Lance stressed he has been independent in his voting habits and said Potosnak should not be attacking his decision to accept $5,000 from Goldman Sachs.
"The president has received $1 million in contributions from Goldman Sachs and my opponent has not asked him to return it," Lance said.
Agreement on the importance of economic policy was the only sign of agreement between the two on the issue. Lance, who has been stressing economic issues at campaign and official stops around the district, reiterated his belief that there is a lack of certainty in the economy, which he said has been hindering economic growth.
The incumbent outlined an economic policy which includes extending the Bush tax cuts, providing changes to the health care law and providing greater lending from banks to businesses.
"We need a regulatory structure that protects safety and soundness and consumer protection," Lance said of the new financial services consumer protection agency, which he voted against.
Both candidates stressed the importance of small business in the economic realm, saying this level of business will likely be a top job creator. Potosnak, who talked in-depth about his decision to hold his formal campaign announcement this summer at a small business, said that he would like to see more investment in the science and technology components of small business.
"The key thing for our economy is putting money into research and development," he said. "We invented the solar cell in the seventh district and now we are not making solar cells."
Potosnak hammered Lance several times on a claim that the incumbent has only discussed jobs for 59 seconds on the House floor during his time in office. Lance did not directly discuss the issue, but touched on his work on job creation in other forums and what he intends to do going forward on the subject.
The only area of significant agreement between the two centered on the military and foreign policy. Both expressed support for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and said they would like to bring the troops home from both wars. Both expressed opposition to nuclear weapons in Iran and support for Israel.
Don't Ask, Don't Tell
Potosnak, the first openly gay major party congressional candidate in state history, used part of the military question to express his support for the recent court decision to suspend the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on service by homosexuals. He said the proposal would recruit more people to the armed forces.
Lance said he is reserving judgment on the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy until the military completes a study on the issue in December. He said he would prefer to have the military analysis before he comes to a conclusion on the best policy for the military.
Health Care Reform
Differences continued over health care reform, with Potosnak expressing support for the health care reform bill and Lance saying that while he disagrees with some parts of the bill he would like to see parts of the law rewritten. The incumbent voted no on the health care bill, reiterating it was part of the cost of the bill. He cited analysis prepared for Congress, which shows the law contributing to federal health care spending hikes.
Lance said he supports portions of the bill including keeping children on their parents' medical coverage until they were 26, keeping a ban on discriminating against those with pre-existing conditions and allow for more purchase across state lines. Key to Lance's proposed reforms is malpractice insurance reform, which he said would reduce the amount of insurance premiums in health care.
Potosnak said he supports the bill with some changes, noting the personal impact on him.
"I actually went without health care," he said. "My mom had to take a job at night at UPS loading boxes so I could have health care."
Both Potosnak and Lance endorsed increased access to mammograms and coverage on health insurance with the two engaging in a testy exchange regarding Lance's support on the subject. Lance said he supported amending legislation to allow for more mammogram coverage with Potosnak saying the incumbent did not offer any amendments on the House floor regarding the issue.
Lance shot back saying he was not allowed to introduce the amendment.
"For the first time in the history of Congress there has never been an open rule," Lance said. "Let's retire Nancy Pelosi."
Under the House rules, amendments are governed based on rules decided for each bill in the Rules Committee, a committee appointed by the speaker of the House and the minority leader. The rules determined by committee govern issues including how many amendments can be offered and who can offer amendments on the floor of the House. U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), a close Pelosi ally, chairs the Rules Committee.
The two candidates agreed with the need for greater access for higher education and lower tuition but offered different policies on the subject. Potosnak attacked Lance for voting against a higher education bill on the floor of the House. Lance responded that the vote was due to the inclusion of the higher education bill on the health care reform bill, which Lance opposed. Lance said that a Republican House majority would prohibit the practice in the future.
Lance said that he has followed the lead of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a former education secretary, in his work on higher education policy, calling Alexander, a former presidential candidate, a nationally recognized expert on the subject. Potosnak criticized Lance for saying he was deferring to other members of Congress on issues.
Both candidates endorsed gender equality in American society, touting their previous and announced support for various issues. Lance talked about his support for the Lilly Ledbetter Act regarding equal pay and his family history of gender equality.
"I think women should have the same pay for the same work," he said.
Potosnak said he plans to support equal pay acts in Congress and he intends to work to encourage more women to enter math and science related professions.
"Women receive on the average seventy seven cents on the dollar to a man's earnings," Potosnak said.
The gender equality section brought one of Lance's direct retorts to his opponent, where he said he supported Potosnak's call for math and science encouragement for women and praised Potosnak's record as a teacher.
"I agree with Mr. Potosnak that we should encourage young women to study math and science," he said. "I commend his public service, I would not disparage his public service like he has disparaged mine."
Potosnak did not respond to this remark.
Energy and Climate Change
Déjà vous of the 2004 presidential election crept in to the debate during exchanges over climate change and the cap and trade bill. Potosnak said he would have voted against the 2009 legislation, which Lance supported. Lance said he did support the bill then, but the results of the Copenhagen climate change summit would cause him to not support the bill due to not getting concessions from China and Russia on carbon emissions.
"This is the typical Washington speak, where I was for it before I was against it," Potosnak said.
Lance said he wants to see more encouragement of nuclear power, including working to build a new nuclear plant in South Jersey. He said the French have developed programs to clean nuclear waste that he said could be adapted in this country and that nuclear power will allow for the amount of energy needed along with the development of clean coal. Lance said he supports solar energy and wants to move away from the dependency on foreign oil.
"We need to move in the direction of clean coal and nuclear power," he said, stressing his opposition to a carbon tax.
Potosnak spoke about his support for clean energy sources, along with the dedication of more research and development money for the alternative energy industry.
Infrastructure and ARC Tunnel
Future transportation and infrastructure issues and the possible end of the ARC tunnel to Manhattan brought different viewpoints from the two candidates. Lance said he supports the project and supports Gov. Chris Christie's viewpoint that the project should be halted because of the projected cost overruns to be borne by the state government. Potosnak stressed his support for the project, which he said he has heard from district residents on a regular basis in regards to supporting the project.
Lance said he intends to work with congressional colleagues on next year's transportation reauthorization act if reelected. He said he follows the lead of U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-Atlantic County) on transportation issues, stressing that he is close to LoBiondo.
"I take guidance from Congressman LoBiondo on transportation matters," he said. "I will fight for our fair share of funding for the northeast and New Jersey."
Potosnak centered most of his transportation policy on the ARC tunnel, stressing the economic importance for New Jersey and the impact of having a one seat ride on the Raritan Valley Line. Lance said that he wants to see changes to the project along with not having New Jersey cover the cost overruns.
"If we build the ARC tunnel, it should not go to Macy's on 34th Street, it should go to Penn Station and ultimately to Grand Central," he said.
In the area of immigration policy, Lance stressed that he believes increased border security is needed along with working to make sure businesses do not hire illegal immigrants would allow for a more secure immigration system. Potosnak centered his remarks on subjects including allowing for reform of the immigration system and the need to allow for the path to citizenship to be made easier for legal immigrants.
Both candidates centered on defense for sportsman's rights, while stressing the need to keep guns out of the hands of children and criminals during an audience question on assault weapons bans. Potosnak said he grew up with guns in his house and has gone hunting, while Lance said he believes that assault weapons laws should be a state level law, not a federal law.
"What is appropriate for New York and New Jersey is not appropriate for Wyoming and Idaho," he said.
Bipartisanship in Congress
An audience question on bipartisanship in Congress drew sparks from both candidates with Potosnak accusing Lance of becoming too partisan in Congress, while Lance addressed his record of bipartisanship.
"What I have heard from Congressman Lance is not leadership but following," Potosnak said.
Lance stressed his reputation in Trenton as a bipartisan lawmaker. He noted that in 2004 he administered the oath of office to then Gov. Dick Codey, a Democrat, and his constitutional amendment to prohibit state borrowing without voter approval would not have passed without Democratic support in the state legislature.