By Regina Wang
New Jersey congressional representatives Rush Holt and Leonard Lance GS '82 spoke Friday on economic policy, health care and the politicization of Congress in a discussion moderated by Anne Case GS '88, an economics professor at the Wilson School. Holt, a Democrat, and Lance, a Republican, first responded to questions from Case before answering questions from the audience, which included many Wilson School alumni since the discussion followed the Wilson School graduate alumni weekend dinner.
"This is really a nice moment tonight because we have these two incredibly intelligent, articulate, hardworking men who have the public good in mind who sit on different sides of the aisle," Case said at the start of the forum.
Speaking on the proposed $2 trillion reduction in spending, Holt argued that cutting these funds all at once would cripple the economy without any consideration of the activities, functions and programs that the country needs most.
"It's a lot like the old James Dean movie where they rip the steering wheel off the car to show courage, and in fact at least part of the car went over the cliff last summer when our bond rating was downgraded," Holt said.
Lance emphasized that Congress's progress during the lame-duck session would depend largely on the election, because the Bush tax cuts are set to expire in 2013. He predicted that the Republicans would retain control of the House but said that he could see the Senate going either way.
"There are some who favor letting all the tax cuts expire but not many people, and it's my judgment that no Congress will let all of them expire," Lance said. "Republicans don't favor having any of them expire."
Holt, however, said that he felt that the Democrats had a good chance of regaining the House but added that such a victory would not necessarily lead to any accomplishments during the lame-duck session.
When asked about the prospects of the government getting to January without a shutdown, Lance praised Speaker of the House John Boehner as a man of his word who had promised not to let the government shut down. Holt, however, felt that avoiding a shutdown was not, by itself, a source of hope.
"I do worry because this Congress, by measures, whether you are looking at number of days in session, number of major bills passed, [is] the least productive legislatively in half a century," Holt said.
Case then noted both congressmen's backgrounds in American history and asked, based on this, what they thought of the possibility of their parties working together in the months ahead. While both Holt and Lance noted that the country's history of bipartisanship gave hope for the future, Lance also expressed concern that President Obama's crowning achievement, the health care legislation, was passed by a purely partisan vote when the Democrats controlled both houses.
"I was discouraged when the other side controlled both houses and the presidency," he said. "There seemed to be minimal discussion." In particular, Lance said that he was disappointed in the lack of discussion on the individual mandate, now being debated before the Supreme Court.
"I am curious whether you and your friends questioned the constitutionality of it when the Heritage Foundation proposed it?" Holt asked in response, referring to an idea first promoted by the conservative think tank in the 1980s to use a system of tax credits to ensure basic "catastrophic" coverage for all Americans.
When the floor opened to questions from the audience, one audience member asked whether Washington had changed Lance's political outlook. Before his entry into Washington politics, Lance was an accomplished moderate who had supported presidential candidate Mitt Romney, known for his healthcare legislation in Massachusetts that essentially amounted to an individual mandate.
"It's a constitutional question to me and it doesn't relate to my going to Washington, it relates to my reading the Constitution," Lance responded.
While Holt and Lance differed on most issues discussed, both emphasized that history has shown the effectiveness of the American system of government.
"If you develop a sense of history, it gives you a great hope," Holt said.
The colloquium, called "The State of the States," was hosted by the Wilson School in Dodds Auditorium, the first session of the Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs.