U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-Hopewell Twp.) is facing arguably the toughest reelection bid of his 12 year stint in office.
Not known as a sharp elbowed campaigner, Holt has nonetheless waded into the fray as he seeks to beat down a challenge from Republican venture capitalist Scott Sipprelle.
Holt again entered the scrum yesterday as he took aim at Sipprelle’s stance on unemployment. The Republican favors a drop in benefits to slightly below minimum wage “so that no one receives more for not working than they do for working.”
Cutting back benefits at a time of nearly 10 percent unemployment would be devastating not only to the unemployed but to the economy as a whole.
“Economists recognize that unemployment benefits help not only the individuals that receive benefits, but also help society at large by preventing those laid off from becoming burdens on social services,” Holt said. “Unemployment benefits also create, dollar for dollar, the greatest positive benefit on the economy in the short term.”
As he has throughout the campaign, Holt sought to paint Sipprelle as too far right for the district and out of touch with all but the most wealthy.
“The contempt that Mr. Sipprelle has for the people he claims to want to represent is staggering,” he said.
In response, Sipprelle said Holt’s statement was yet further evidence that the incumbent is out of ideas and unwilling to talk about substantive issues.
“This is just another example of his deception and double talk,” Sipprelle said. “He is twisting my words, which supported an extension of unemployment benefits.”
Sipprelle said the idea to reduce benefits below minimum wage came from a desire to reduce chronic joblessness and keep the government from creating a disincentive to work. He sees a reduction in benefits as a compromise between two sides of the debate – that the benefits are necessary on one side and that the government cannot afford the extension on the other.
“My position was that we should extend the benefits, but that we need to make sure when we do that we are not paying a premium to those who are not working,” he said.
Sipprelle called Holt’s attacks nothing more than “career preservation” and accused the incumbent and the media of paying to much attention to negative campaigning.
Holt was flanked by two local who have extended bouts of unemployment. Keith Dewey of Lawrenceville said unemployment benefits were keeping him afloat while he searched for a job to replace the position he lost due to cut backs at The College of New Jersey. Dewey, who holds a PhD, has taken a series of part time jobs including substitute teaching and driving a limousine to supplement his benefits.
“While any imperfect system like unemployment insurance can be reformed, further punishing and discouraging professionals economically who are down but not completely out is unequivocally not the way forward politically or policy-wise,” Dewey said.
Holt cited several economists who have said unemployment insurance is one of the cheapest and most effective forms of economic stimulus.
The 12th District is considered by some pundits to be in play, though Holt has out raised the millionaire venture capitalist to date. Sipprelle has spent money all summer trying to increase his name recognition, while Holt has increased public appearances like the one he held Tuesday.
Sipprelle has sought to paint Holt as a tax and spend Democrat, who has never seen a program he doesn’t want taxpayers to fund. By contrast, Holt has attacked Sipprelle as a Republican fat cat with no clue how the middle class lives.