by Lauren Otis
posted February 24, 2009
Despite voting against President Barack Obama's $787 billion federal stimulus package along with every other Republican in the House of Representatives, Rep. Leonard Lance said he intends to aggressively pursue funds from the stimulus plan for his home district.
"I recognize that I did not vote for the package," said Rep. Lance, who is a freshman congressman representing New Jersey's 7th District. With a relationship with his fellow New Jersey congressional delegation and with Gov. Jon Corzine he characterized as "cordial," Rep. Lance said he hoped to work jointly with them to obtain stimulus funds for the state and his district "based on merit."
Rep. Lance discussed the stimulus package and his first six weeks in Congress at a meeting with editors and reporters at The Princeton Packet's offices Friday.
To date, Rep. Lance said he has held two teleconference town hall meetings and "almost exclusively the questions relate to the economy, I might even say exclusively."
Rep. Lance said he recognized the need for a stimulus plan but opposed the Democratic package because it contained too much spending and increased the national debt too precipitously.
"I am as a member of Congress deeply concerned about levels of federal debt," he said.
Rep. Lance said he would have preferred a stimulus package like the alternate proposed by Republican Whip Eric Cantor, a $500 billion package equally divided between stimulus spending and tax credits.
"Having said that, I hope this stimulus package works," he said of the plan President Obama signed a week ago.
"I agree that we have to do both and the president's package does contain some tax cuts, and I want to be on the record as saying we have to do both (spending and tax cuts)," Rep. Lance said. "I recognize we need to prime the pump, we need to do it in a temporary, timely and targeted fashion, and there is some of that in this bill."
"The bill was really written by the majority in the house and our side was critical of that," he said. But Rep. Lance said he did not vote against the bill as a result of pressure to do so within his party. "I always vote my conscience and voted my conscience on that piece of legislation," he said.
"I criticize my own political party for the fact that the national debt was increased from $5 trillion to $10 trillion," during the administration of President George W. Bush, when Republicans had a majority in Congress for the first six years, Rep. Lance said.
"That debt has now increased from $10 trillion to $12 trillion in the course of one month," Rep. Lance said. "By the end of this Congress the national debt could be $15 trillion and I think that will lead inevitably to higher interest rates and I believe it will lead to stagflation," he said. He termed stagflation "the worst of all possible worlds" the combination of rising interest rates and a continued stagnant economy that has not been seen since the late 1970s.
"I ran for Congress based on a platform of fiscal responsibility, ethical integrity and I also ran in the belief of bipartisan cooperation," Rep. Lance said. Despite the very partisan nature of the debate over, and vote on, the stimulus package, "I am hopeful regarding bipartisanship," he said.
Rep. Lance said he was one of 11 moderate Republican members of Congress who were invited to a meeting at the White House with President Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former member of Congress from Illinois. "I observed, I let my more senior colleagues engage in the discussion," he said, adding "the consensus was we wanted to work with the president and the administration."
Rep. Lance said he has already supported the administration on two major proposals that came before Congress: reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, and expanding SCHIP coverage to 4 million more children; and being one of three Republican members to vote for the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which reversed a Supreme Court ruling that had restricted the ability of women and other workers to sue for pay discrimination.
Rep. Lance said he would be philosophically opposed to nationalization of individual banks in the course of the government's effort to stabilize the financial markets, but did not have a problem philosophically with amending mortgage terms for people who got in over their heads.
"I think we should grant aid where appropriate. I think there could be an increase in the term of a mortgage to 30 years, and perhaps some modification of the interest rate," Rep. Lance said. "I am much more reluctant to favor a reduction of the principal," of a mortgage, he said.
In other policy areas, Rep. Lance noted that he would continue his support for Israel "the great democracy in the Middle East" and "I hope we can leave Iraq on an early date," an exit made possible under the surge instituted in the administration of President Bush.
"Washington is new to me and is a challenge," Rep. Lance admitted, acknowledging that he is limited in what he can do because of his lack of seniority. Even so, he said he lobbied hard for an appointment to the House Financial Services Committee, and happily obtained one, to a committee that will have a central role in addressing many of the financial problems affecting the nation.
Rep. Lance said he arrived one hour early to meeting between President Obama and congressional Republicans in order to secure a front row seat, knowing he would not get one any other way because of his lack of seniority.
"I'm just going to work harder than average to become more effective," he said.