Above is the “class” photo” of the incoming House freshmen. There has undoubtedly been a blue wave. What happened in the USA was not Tsunami, but it was exactly that in New Jersey when we captured four of five new House seats and ended up with 11 of 12 Democrats in our delegation. So what’s next? What should our emboldened delegation be doing?
There are at least two things they should not be doing. Expending their energy on a corrosive battle over who should be their leader is not a productive way to get started. Although three of our incoming reps said they want a new Speaker, If it appears that Nancy Pelosi likely has the votes, rather than dividing the Democrats at the opening gate, just leave the matter alone. Also they should not be expending a lot of energy and time on numerous Trump investigations. The Mueller probe is already revealing criminal acts and most likely will soon reveal more – all of which then can become the basis for specific investigations and new legislation. Likewise, waiting for Mueller’s report is preferable to rushing into time-consuming impeachment proceedings. Our legislators have more important goals to accomplish while the bloom is still on the rose.
Congress in the past recent years has been notable not for the bills it has passed, which have been far fewer than before, but rather for the bills that failed, including some 40 efforts to repeal ACA. With at least 35 new Democrats the House now has the opportunity to pass important legislation promised during the campaigns. They can actually get things done. There will be cases where they will have to compromise with the Republican Senate, but ultimately what is passed will be real action and far better than what we would have gotten from the prior House. There will also be cases where Trump and/or the Senate want something (the Wall, bennies for the rich) but the House will be able to say no.
HOW WILL OUR NEW NJ LEGISLATORS VOTE ON KEY PROMISING BILLS?
Looking at what these four “newbies” said on the Vote Smart questionnaire, what they said in the issues section of their website (ie. Jeff Van Drew for Congress) and what is gleaned through googling the candidates, it appears that Andy Kim (CD 3), Tom Malinowski (CD 7), and Mikie Sherrill (CD 11) are broadly supportive of the below matters. For Jeff Van Drew (CD 2), who has a voting record as a State Senator combined with his campaign positions which are more promising but still somewhat vague, how he will vote in the House is less clear. Incumbent Democrat Josh Gottheimer, who was thought might have a tough re-election battle succeeded with a high-margin victory. As a social progressive, he is also supportive of these issues, but more likely than most to seek compromises that might or might not ensure passage.
- $15.00 MINIMUM WAGE: During the 2016 campaign Trump promised to support a minimum-wage increase, but on the eve of the 2018 election, his chief economic adviser proposed abolishing the law altogether. NJ as a state has been pro-active. Most freshmen, with Van Drew as an exception, are supportive as is our delegation as a whole. If Trump sticks to his promise, the Senate might go along with him and increase the federal level.
- STRENGTHENING THE ACA: The urgent, fixated desire of Republicans to repeal and replace has waned and many of them have not supported adding a restriction for pre-existing conditions. All that’s necessary is to leave this provision in the ACA alone. It may be possible to strengthen the ACA by expanding its coverage and patching up gaps which have been core principles of NJ freshmen members, as well as others throughout NJ and the USA. However, moving into something like “Medicare for all” or another comprehensive, but time-consuming solution, should not be an immediate priority. In NJ Gov. Murphy has taken positive steps including the implementation of a fine against those who don’t have insurance thus helping to reduce the cost of insurance premiums.
- VOTING RIGHTS: There have been substantial voter-suppression efforts in certain states which could lead the House Democrats to take action. Fortunately, this has not been problem in NJ. Our new reps have tended not to address the issue, but most are likely to be supportive if the House pursues the issue. Ultimately, like all legislation, it would need Republican support in the Senate and could face opposition from Trump. Regardless, it must remain on the radar if we are serious about being a democracy.
- INFRASTRUCTURE INCLUDING INCREASED GATEWAY FUNDING: A non-porked-up infrastructure bill, with funding for bridges and roads, airports and mass transit, clean-energy projects ,new schools and significantly more funding for Gateway is important for NJ. Trump had wanted such legislation. There will be more pressure to force such a bill, one which should not be overly complex and likely not be as fulsome as we might wish. However, our new legislators and many others across the country want to pass it. We have our own NJ infrastructure budget, but it provides nowhere near what we need.
- IMMIGRATION: A comprehensive solution will take more time and energy to be passed, but in the meantime granting legal status to Dreamers which Trump has promised to sign, seems closer to becoming a reality. Our legislators would be supportive of this, plus of other fixes which might be possible. Our delegation and even a number of Republicans nationally will stand in the way of spending many billions on a stupid wall but might give him some funding if he agree to certain fixes. These young people have so much to contribute.
- CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: This is a broad category, but one which many Republicans support. There is a bill, The Force Act, which has Sen. Booker excited but also strongly supported by Republican Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley, as well as many R’s and D’s. The House appears to have the votes and might pass it in the lame duck congress. Standing in the way is Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who says there is not enough time to pass it now in the Senate. He is also vague about whether he will take it to a vote in the new session. Our NJ freshmen, with one possible exception would be supportive. NJ under Christie and a Democratic Legislature brought about a number of these reforms.
- PROTECTING THE MUELLER INVESTIGATION: Congress has already voted once to ensure protection, but further threatening actions by Trump would necessitate an additional response. The Republican preventative action seems somewhat to have waned (Linsey Graham as an example). Nonetheless, while a response might be needed but not forthcoming during the lame duck session, a more aggressive approach would be important immediately upon the beginning of the new session. Our delegation would be highly supportive, but to be effective it would need more than just a majority in both houses to restrain our fearful President.
- GUN CONTROL: This issue has long been difficult nationally with both R’s and D’s cowardly and queasy about changes. Nonetheless the momentum is growing and the power of the NRA is diminishing. We are unlikely to quickly get the comprehensive bill we want, but some fixes could reach a consensus level, and most of our delegation would be supportive. Fortunately in NJ we have strong legislation, but it will continue being diluted as long as other states, particularly those near us, have weaker laws.
- SALT: All NJ representatives want the state and local tax (SALT) provision repealed. With more NJ, NY and CA Democratic representatives elected the possibility is brighter, but most states are not so impacted and their delegations less inclined to make the change. Nonetheless our delegation should make the effort.
IN A NUTSHELL
What I want is forward progress on ALL the above categories, but as a pragmatist I recognize that our delegation will have to work across the aisle and with the President. There is the real possibility for numerous home runs in the upcoming congressional session on issues which our newbies have already expressed their support. However three of them were elected in a close race or one which was much closer than anticipated so there could be some trepidation on their part. As new legislation enters the sausage-making process we will need to remind our delegates of their promises and do our best to hold their feet to the fire.