In N.J.'s Third, the economy has residents stressed out

Posted: October 17, 2010

As congressional candidates travel across New Jersey's Third District, making their pitches to voters in Ocean and Burlington Counties as well as Cherry Hill in Camden County, they're finding most people are stressed out about the economy.

It doesn't matter how young or old the residents are or whether they're Republicans, Democrats, or unaffiliated voters.

Democratic freshman U.S. Rep. John Adler says the $860 billion stimulus bill, passed in the first year of President Obama's administration, provided tax cuts, business incentives, and construction jobs. It stopped the economy's free fall, but did not go far enough, he says.

The government shouldn't pump money into the economy on a regular basis, Adler says, but thanks to the stimulus, at least the unemployment rate has stabilized.

"My God, how much would it have been if we had not spent the money?" he asks.

New Jersey's unemployment rate is 9.6 percent, according to the latest available data from the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Republican challenger Jon Runyan says government should stimulate the economy through tax cuts for individuals and businesses and a reduction in regulations.

"Businesses are ready to grow. They're ready to kick-start the economy," says Runyan, a former Eagles offensive lineman running for office for the first time. "It is policy that is truly holding them back."

Adler touts his House record, noting that he has voted for tax cuts, persuaded the Obama administration to free up loan money for local auto dealers, and sponsored bills relieving small companies of having to file redundant internal audits.

Runyan says his plan to cut personal and business taxes would get the economy moving again.

Adler has voted for some tax cuts. Breaking with his party, he wanted to hold on to tax cuts for dividend and capital gains that are set to expire in 2011. But consistent with his party, he says, he would like millionaires to continue to be taxed at a higher rate. Runyan says that would stunt job growth.

Ultimately, according to Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin, there's little that any member of Congress can do to ease voters' anxiety about the economy. Beyond the unemployed, the rest of the workforce feels trapped because it can't find better jobs.

"No member of Congress can get you a job or make you more secure in your job," Dworkin said. "This is an election, in general, where people want to vent their frustration."

Patrick Murray, Monmouth University's polling director, found in April that more than 60 percent of his respondents said they were stressed about the economy. "There's potentially even more stress right now because we're being told that the recession has ended, and nobody's actually feeling it," Murray said.

A lot of that stress and frustration is directed at government spending, an issue on which Adler and Runyan agree - up to a point.

Adler has voted against more than half of 12 spending bills proffered since he went to Washington in January 2009. He wants to aggressively retire government debt, cut farm subsidies (especially for ethanol), and bring troops home from Iraq. He has proposed cutting pensions for government officials who have been convicted of crimes related to their jobs, with savings estimated at $573 million.

Runyan wants the power of a balanced-budget amendment, which would force the government to spend no more than it took in. He would lay off government workers and reduce their pay to save money.

Adler voted against the federal health-care overhaul because, he says, it did little to contain costs. Runyan supports repealing the law and starting over, but Adler wouldn't go that far. He says that the bill should be amended, but that parts that provided health care for people who didn't have it should remain in effect.

Both Adler and Runyan oppose the privatization of Social Security but say the program needs proper funding. Neither goes into many specifics for long-term solutions.

The two agree on many other issues as they run in a district in transition. It was designed as a Republican district, but voters went for Obama in 2008, also electing Adler as the first Democrat to represent them in memory. In the 2009 governor's race, however, district voters chose Republican Christopher J. Christie.

Here's is how some of Adler's and Runyan's other views compare:

Ethics: Adler voted for a bill that would force so-called super PACS to disclose their donors. Under a recent Supreme Court ruling, certain nonprofits can finance political advertising but do not have to disclose who's paying for it. Runyan has no problem with the current state of the law.

Energy: Adler supported rebates for families who made their homes more energy efficient by installing insulation and sealing ducts, windows, and doors. He voted for the controversial "cap-and-trade" bill to curb emissions, saying that because New Jersey has an even tougher law, state residents would save money. Runyan opposed the bill, saying it would create an energy tax, raise energy prices, and hurt job growth.

Both support developing nuclear and alternative-energy sources but disagree about offshore oil drilling.

Adler opposes drilling off New Jersey and nearby shores in Delaware and Maryland, saying he'd rather see drilling in areas where residents support it, including the Gulf of Mexico.

Runyan supports drilling off New Jersey but says he would give voters a say on where.

Foreign policy: Both support Israel's sovereignty and agree that Iran should not have nuclear capability. Adler says the rest of the U.S. troops should be withdrawn from Iraq. Runyan says military leaders, not politicians, should decide when U.S. troops withdraw from Iraq.

Contact staff writer Cynthia Burton at 856-779-3858 or

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