History matters to Rodney Frelinghuysen and President Trump’s decision not to fund the Gateway tunnel project means that the 12-term congressman may be the least effective House Appropriations Committee chairman since his s great-great-great-great-grandfather served in the Continental Congress.
Frelinghuysen decided not to seek re-election this year amidst a series of forced errors that created a massive grass roots effort to unseat him. In a district that has sent a Republican to Congress for the last 34 years, some pundits think Democrats have the edge in their bid to flip Frelinghuysen’s seat.
The Gateway tunnel was Frelinghuysen’s major infrastructure priority as chairman of the House panel that controls the federal budget. Historically, it is virtually unheard of for the chairman of one of the most powerful committees to get turned down for what is – relatively speaking – a mere $10 billion for his home state. It is inconsistent with the performance of his forerunners.
The Hal Rogers Family Entertainment Center – home of the Kentucky Splash Water Park – was named after Frelinghuysen’s immediate predecessor in appreciation of the federal money he brought back to his home state.
Jamie Whitten, who chaired the Appropriations Committee from 1979 to 1992, delivered mammoth amounts of money to his rural Mississippi district. He got a $2 billion for a 232-mile canal connecting the Mississippi River to Alabama; there is one section of the canal that goes under the Jamie Whitten Bridge. He once added money to a job creation bill that widened a two-lane road in a relatively rural area to a four-lane federal highway.
When David Obey retired from the House in 2010 as the sitting chairman of the Appropriations Committee, his constituents in Wisconsin worried that the flow of federal dollars to their state would end. The concern was valid: Obey delivered more money to Wisconsin that the other seven congressmen combined.
Last thing: it’s not like Frelinghuysen gets to wear his failure as a badge of honor, cloaked in his commitment to reducing federal spending. That would be a credible argument if Michael Patrick Carroll was in charge of Congress’ purse strings, but not Rodney Frelinghuysen.