By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
From the need for immigration reform and the return to the gold-backed dollar and related economic issues, U.S. Senate hopeful Jeff Bell touched on a wide range of topics at Rider University in Lawrenceville last week.
Mr. Bell, who is a Republican, wants to unseat U.S. Sen. Cory Booker in the Nov. 4 general election. The Democratic senator was elected to the U.S. Senate in a special election last year, and is running for his first full term.
Right out of the box last week, Mr. Bell criticized Senator Booker’s decision to hold only one debate with him. Mr. Bell, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Democrat Bill Bradley in 1978, said the two men held 21 debates during that campaign.
"There is something about the Democratic Party and the left wing. They are not used to a debate. They don’t like it. They assume their vision is correct," said Mr. Bell, who spoke at the invitation of the university’s Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics.
Mr. Bell described the debates between himself and Mr. Bradley as "fruitful." Although Mr. Bradley was opposed to income tax rate cuts, he eventually reconsidered and co-sponsored the Tax Reform Act of 1986 in the Senate.
The legislation had something in it for Republicans — lower income tax rates — and something in it for Democrats, Mr. Bell said. The Democrats were able to plug many tax loopholes, he said. The 1986 tax reform legislation was approved 97-3 in the Senate.
Reaching bipartisan support today is difficult to do, Mr. Bell said. President Obama’s idea of negotiation is to ask for 95 percent of what he wants, demand it and then threaten to leave the table if his demands are not met, he said. The president issues executive orders to get what he wants, so there is no incentive to go to the table.
Another issue that should have received bipartisan support is immigration reform, said Mr. Bell, noting that he favors immigration reform. President George W. Bush pushed for immigration reform, but the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives balked.
President Obama pledged there would be immigration reform in his first term, but "he did not lift a finger," Mr. Bell said. The rumor has it that one of his top advisers, Rahm Emmanuel, told the president not to do it because it could have hurt the 2010 election, he said, adding that afterwards, the president "used immigration reform as a club against Republicans."
Mr. Bell said he is not opposed to immigration reform. It would be a pathway to citizenship for 11 million illegal aliens, he said. Reform would "regularize" their status. They would have to pay fines and taxes, and then there would be a 10-year waiting period until they could apply for U.S. citizenship.
Immigration reform is not amnesty, he emphasized, because there is no guarantee of obtaining American citizenship.
Mr. Bell also discussed the need for a guest worker program. It would allow non-Americans to work in hotels, restaurants and other areas that need workers, he said. They would go home after they have fulfilled their job obligations, he said.
But such legislation would need support from both political parties, Mr. Bell said. President Obama and Sen. Booker are "paying lip service" to it, he said. No action has been taken on immigration reform or a guest worker program.
Turning to the economy, Mr. Bell called for a return to the gold standard — tying the value of the dollar to a specific amount of gold.
"The wheels have fallen off the paper money system," he said. But he acknowledged that voters are not exactly demanding a return to the gold standard.
Mr. Bell was critical of the Federal Reserve Bank and the zero-percent interest rates. Banks pay virtually no interest, which makes it impossible to save money or preserve wealth, he said. Low interest rates do not keep up with rising prices.
Zero-percent interest rates also impede small business-development, Mr. Bell said. Small businesses create new jobs. If an idea clicks and there is demand, the business needs to buy equipment and hire more employees.
But banks are not willing to extend lines of credit to small businesses, because they cannot charge enough interest for the risk they are taking, he said. It is no wonder that this is a jobless recovery. Small businesses cannot create more jobs if they are unable to borrow money and expand.
People have never seen a recovery like this one, Mr. Bell said. There are no new jobs and no small businesses creating jobs. Young people borrow money for college and go into debt. A college diploma is not much more than a piece of wallpaper, he said, adding that people remember when it was an "income enhancement."
Mr. Bell disputed the reported 5.9 percent unemployment rate. He said that if people who have dropped out of the work force because they cannot find jobs were to be counted, the unemployment rate would be 10.2 percent.
"No one wants to talk about (federal monetary) policy. It seems to me, someone should come out (to talk about it) to people in New Jersey. I couldn’t get anyone to run (against Sen. Booker). I had to move back to New Jersey," he said.
Getting back into elected politics "felt like jumping off a cliff. I am 70 years old. I am not exactly planning out a long political career. If I win, I will be the second oldest freshman senator in history," Mr. Bell said.
By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer