The ex-Eagles lineman and the Harvard-trained attorney sat across from each other, trading philosophies, accusations and rhetoric.
Freshman Republican Congressman Jon Runyan, once a gritty offensive tackle, made the case for a limited government that holds down taxes, trims regulations, including those in ObamaCare, and restricts federal funding for abortion. He cast himself as a man willing to compromise, while blaming the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate for the lingering gridlock in Washington.
His opponent, Shelley Adler, a former Cherry Hill councilwoman and the widow of ex-Congressman John Adler, took sharp, focused aim at Runyan’s record, peppering him with detailed criticism of his votes. She accused him of backing tax breaks for oil companies and incentives that make it profitable to move jobs overseas, and called for keeping government out of the abortion debate and for higher taxes on millionaires to help balance the federal budget.
The two met with the Inquirer’s editorial board on Tuesday in Philadelphia. They are fighting for a House seat in South Jersey’s third district, centered in Burlington and Ocean counties. (PolitickerNJ has an excellent write up on the race today.)
Runyan rapidly tapped his foot on the floor as she attacked. He responded with firm words, but balanced his imposing frame with soft tones.
The two candidates kept a respectful demeanor – Runyan referring to “Miss Adler” or “the gentle-lady,” Adler calling him “Congressman” – but sharply differed on the issues.
In a few instances they broke slightly from party orthodoxy. Adler, like several Democrats from wealthy areas of the country, argued that taxes should rise on some, but not necessarily on those earning $250,000 or up, as President Obama has proposed. Instead, Adler said the threshold should be $1 million. (Democrats from New York and San Francisco have made similar arguments). Runyan is for keeping all income tax rates at their current levels, regardless of income.
Runyan said he could embrace some aspects of Obama’s health law, including requiring insurance companies to cover customers with pre-existing conditions and capping rate increases, but he said the bill overall includes too many expensive regulations.
These stances, slight variations on their parties’ primary talking points, were the exception, though, as the two largely hewed to the main arguments offered by Republicans and Democrats all around the Philadelphia region. Here are some of their key statements on top issues in an hour-long meeting. (Answers are presented the order they came up during the editorial board meeting):
-- On the country’s direction
Runyan: I don’t think anybody in this country and even in the third congressional district thinks this country’s getting any better. The country I inherited from my parents and grandparents and the growth in this country and the better place – I don’t think I have the ability to do that. I don’t think most of us would even say we have the ability to turn a better place over to the next generation.
Adler: He said earlier in his remarks that he doesn’t see how he can give a better united states to our children and grandchildren. I think we can if we change the Congress.
-- On jobs and fiscal issues:
Runyan: We all know the number one issue is jobs … We’re not creating an environment for anybody in this world that has the ability to create a job to create that job. There’s so much uncertainty.
Adler: We need to both consider spending cuts as well as revenue issues (to balance the federal budget). … You can’t have an additional $300,000, on average, person tax break for millionaires and billionaires and expect that we are going to be reaching the goals that we need to reach with respect to the budget.
-- On the Bush tax cuts:
Runyan: I voted to extend them as currently (in place) and it’s been mischaracterized by Mrs. Adler that we’re giving tax breaks to people. We’re not giving tax breaks to anyone; we’re extending the current rates.
Adler (saying she would raise taxes on high incomes, but at a higher point than Obama proposed): The cost of living’s higher in New Jersey. $250,000 is very different in Montana and some of the southern states than in New Jersey … I am at the target of $1 million in New Jersey (for where tax increases would begin).
-- On Obama’s health care law:
Adler: The health care bill did not do something that’s very important –which is to address the very high cost of health care … Notwithstanding, I don’t believe we should go back to a time where we turn health care back to the insurance companies and take people off of policies that have pre-existing policies, take young adults off their parents policies that are now on there for the 1st time, take away the preventive health care that we now have.
Runyan (saying the government is not even two-thirds of the way through writing the bill’s regulations): Every regulation the federal government puts out has a cost – that’s a cost to middle class Americans, that’s a cost to every business. … There are 21 tax increases in that bill that frankly don’t even pay for half of that bill.
-- On women’s health:
Adler: We should keep government out of women’s health care decisions. …
Runyan: When you get into the women’s discussion and you saw what happened with the Catholic church, there’s a violation of their freedom of religion, and when you mandate a Catholic facility to do a lot of that stuff, you’re stepping across that line and you’re opening up a box.
Adler: That’s why you voted to cut off funding for preventive health care in Planned Parenthood?
Runyan: Planned Parenthood is a separate issue. I agree the health care stuff in Planned Parenthood is great. The abortion part is the problem. … You can’t have federal dollars going to something like abortion.
(Adler argued that federal law bars using federal money for abortions, but Runyan said there will be overlap when the same facility offers health services and abortion under one roof.)
-- On the Ryan budget plan for Medicare:
Runyan: It inserts competition. It leaves the current Medicare plan as is for those 55 and plus, people are missing that one. … I know for a fact and the actuaries and the CBO will tell you if you let it go down the current road and do nothing to tweak it, it’s not going to be there for anybody in our lifetime.
Adler: He wants to go back to the private system. The private system shut out people with pre-existing conditions. The world he wants to go back to didn’t have preventive health care. He somehow wants to keep all the good things, the popular things, but not work on the whole system. … Medicare is not an entitlement program. It is a program that people pay into and with the expectation that it’ll be there when they reach that retirement age.