The House returned from its long August recess this week… and promptly made no concrete progress towards reaching a government funding deal. (The Senate made some headway, but not much.) What was accomplished, though, was the opening of an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden,
With just 15 days to avoid a government shutdown, the environment in Washington is volatile. Here’s some of what New Jersey’s 14 members of Congress did this week amidst the disarray.
Starting to get some vague hints that Congress might be a little dysfunctional, maybe
In order to fund the government long-term, Congress needs to pass 12 appropriations bills before the deadline of September 30. At this point, there’s no shot of that happening; only one of the 12 has passed the House and zero have passed the Senate, with attempted votes in both chambers this week getting stymied.
Absent a full funding deal, the next-best solution is to pass a continuing resolution that temporarily prevents a shutdown and gives members more time to work out a deal, but even that is proving difficult to achieve this year. Right-wing House Republicans have balked at the idea of a stopgap bill, stranding Congress in limbo.
As co-chair of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) could be an important figure in any deal that eventually emerges. Gottheimer said that he’s still pushing for a bipartisan continuing resolution, but Republicans are too busy with their own internal divisions at the moment.
“You’re going to have to find a bipartisan solution, because you’ve got a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president,” Gottheimer said. “You’re going to have to find consensus here. Obviously, right now, there’s not a lot of interest in that [on the Republican side] – they’re having enough of their own battles right now within their own caucus, between the extremes and the more reasonable folks over there.”
Rep. Chris Smith (R-Manchester) agreed that a continuing resolution is the best path forward and said he’d like to avoid a shutdown, something that not every member of his caucus would agree with him on.
“I’m not for a shutdown,” Smith said. “What happens after the shutdown? [We’ve got to] work on it now and try to get it done… A continuing resolution that’s temporary gives us time to get it right and negotiate with our friends in the Senate.”
Given the many divisions at play, that will be hard to accomplish. But Smith, who after nearly 43 years in the House has seen more appropriations processes than just about anyone, said he’s optimistic that some sort of a solution will emerge.
“We’ll get through it,” he said. “I really think we’ll get through it.”
The big congressional news of the week, of course, was House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s announcement that the House will open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden and his family’s business dealings.
McCarthy chose to skip holding a vote on opening the inquiry, meaning that individual House Republicans won’t have to officially go on the record in support or opposition just yet. But it’s not exactly hard to guess where the Democratic caucus, including its nine New Jerseyans, stands.
“It’s just revenge politics,” Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-Newark) said of the inquiry, echoing the sentiments of many of his colleagues. “They’re just so upset that their lord and savior, Donald Trump, was impeached, they feel that they have to reciprocate. It’s no good. The Speaker is scared of his far-right. They’ve got him cowering in a corner, and he is kowtowing to the least of us in this country.”
As for New Jersey’s three Republican representatives, two of them, Smith and Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-Dennis), quickly said they support the inquiry.
“Any reasonable man or woman would conclude there’s enough here to do an inquiry,” Smith said yesterday.
The third, Rep. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Westfield), has been more secretive. Asked about the inquiry by the New Jersey Globe on Tuesday, Kean only said, “It’s good to see you, my friend”; approached by Politico NJ the next day, he backed into an elevator and said nothing.
Railing against delays
Two weeks ago, the Federal Transit Administration threw a major wrench in the planned Hudson-Bergen Light Rail expansion, which would extend NJ Transit light rail service through densely populated areas of Hudson and Bergen Counties. The state, the FTA said, needs to provide updated information on the project’s environmental impacts, potentially delaying it by two years or more.
The members of Congress whose districts would stand to benefit from the expansion, which has officially been in the works since 2007, are not taking the news well.
“The impacts and benefits of this project have been clear for decades,” Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-Paterson) and Rob Menendez (D-Jersey City) said in a joint statement released yesterday. “The Northern Branch project would promote important economic development and connect communities that we represent – from Bayonne to Ridgefield – that have been isolated from one another.”
Menendez represents the southernmost parts of the proposed expansion in North Bergen, while Pascrell represents Ridgefield in southern Bergen County. The line would then continue on through Palisades Park, Leonia, and finally Englewood, which are all part of Gottheimer’s district.
Gottheimer, alongside Reps. Andy Kim (D-Moorestown) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing), sent a letter today to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg expressing “deep concern” at the delay and insisting that the Department of Transportation commit to an expedited review process.
“We deserve to know what is wrong with them, and why they decided to wake up one day and demand something that makes zero sense to anybody who looks at this,” Gottheimer said today at an event in Leonia.
You’ve heard of the Jackson 5, now get ready for…
Along with five of his Democratic colleagues, U.S. Senator Cory Booker is apparently a member of the “Child Tax Credit 6,” a group of senators and representatives doggedly fighting for a return of the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC).
As part of the original American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in 2021, the amount of money available under the CTC was increased, as was the number of families eligible for the tax credit. But that expansion expired at the end of 2021, after which there was a significant rise in the child poverty rate, from a 5% to 12%.
Booker and the CTC 6 have been fighting to restore the expansion, pushing for bills like the Working Families Tax Relief Act, which would strengthen both the CTC and the Earned Income Tax Credit. At a press conference on Wednesday, Booker and his fellow CTC 6 members renewed their call for congressional action.
“Who are we, as a nation, where this is a story repeated millions of times?” Booker said. “Struggling moms, struggling families who want the promise of the American Dream, that anyone born anywhere can have a shot. And we just took it away because we prioritize, in this country, things that have far less of a return – not to mention the moral madness of this failure of Congress to expand the Child Tax Credit.”
Congress needs to stop acting like children
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) joined a number of her Democratic colleagues – including Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Massachusetts), the House’s second-ranking Democrat – in introducing the Child Care Stabilization Act, which would provide more federal money for child care facilities.
Increased child care funds were a part of the American Rescue Plan, but they are set to expire on September 30, spelling potential disaster for facilities that relied on the additional funding. Sherrill said that more than 1,000 child care facilities in New Jersey alone are reliant on the federal funds and could close if they dry up.
“This support is critical, and if we allow our child care providers and centers to go over this cliff, we will see really grave results to the economy, not just of the United States but certainly in New Jersey,” Sherrill said at a Capitol Hill press conference on Wednesday. “This is a critical issue for our families and our economy.”
Sherrill isn’t the only New Jerseyan on the bill; five other House members and both U.S. Senators from the state are all listed as co-sponsors.
Other Garden State plots
• The House passed one piece of consequential legislation this week: the Preserving Choice in Vehicle Purchases Act, which would prevent states from implementing policies that limit the use or sale of gas-powered vehicles. A few moderate Democrats supported the GOP-led bill, but among New Jersey’s representatives, it was a party-line vote, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats opposed.
“[This bill] infringes on the rights of states like my home state of New Jersey to voluntarily adopt standards to protect people from dangerous air pollution,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), who led the charge against the bill as ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Nobody is taking away your gas-powered vehicle. Republicans are fear-mongering in a deliberate effort to mislead the American people.”
• Smith’s efforts to force the Biden administration to track down as many as 85,000 unaccompanied minors who entered the country illegally got a star assist this week from Tim Ballard, the inspiration for the movie Sound of Freedom. Ballard also made an appearance at a human trafficking-focused hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, which Smith chairs.
• The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Senator Bob Menendez, held a hearing this week on the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed region in the Caucasus that has been blockaded by the Azerbaijani government since last December. Menendez’s calls for sanctions on Azerbaijan put him in league with Smith, who held a hearing on Nagorno-Karabakh last week.
• Gottheimer issued two letters this week to major universities: one calling on Princeton to remove what Gottheimer said was an antisemitic book from one of its course catalogs, and another demanding that the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater, disinvite Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill from speaking at the university.
• “Nuts!” -Congressman Donald Norcross (D-Camden)’s one-word reaction to the Biden impeachment inquiry.