The Rodney Report: Show And Tell

This Week: 

  • Showing Us ... What?
  • Congress And The Tangled Web of Trump And Russia     cranky_rodney.jpg
  • The Air We Breathe, The Water We Drink
  • What's Riding In Those Minibuses
  • Who's Paying For That Wall
  • Rodney: Live At Last?

 

Showing Us … What?

In a July 20 editorial, The Daily Record urged Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen to “show us the money” to add luster to an image that’s been a bit dulled of late. The editorial board cited a list of recent complaints, such as Frelinghuysen’s lack of town halls, his AHCA vote and his targeting of NJ 11th For Change’s Saily Avelenda. They then praised his role in retaining $11 million for a Chemical Safety Board Trump had targeted, along with a badly needed $900 million in appropriations-bill funding for New Jersey transportation.

Does the funding balance the books? Money is important, but so is an advocate in Washington who represents our values, and whom we can trust to stand for us. 

That trust is difficult with a voting record like Frelinghuysen’s, which hasn’t strayed from the party line this session:

  • His vote to repeal and replace Obamacare with Trumpcare, after saying he wouldn’t back a plan that strips health coverage from 27,000 constituents. (Perhaps that shouldn’t have been a surprise -- Frelinghuysen voted to repeal the ACA more than 60 times since it became law.)
  • His vote to eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood -- shortly after an appearance at a Caldwell diner, in which Frelinghuysen told a group of Hadassah women (including NJ 11th For Change member Peppi Glass): “Don’t worry,” when they urged him to stand strong for women’s reproductive rights.
  • His vote last week to bring back horse slaughterhouses to the United States. (Really? When your state’s official animal is the horse? At least it went down in defeat in the Senate.)
  • The $11 million for the chemical safety board must be balanced against Frelinghuysen’s approved $528 million in cuts to the EPA. 
  • The $900 million for transportation is only fair considering that in 2011, Frelinghuysen diverted $1 billion in federal transportation funds from New Jersey (you read that right).

 

It’s good to get transportation funding, in this summer of commuting discontent. But as this edition of the Rodney Report will explore, it’s been a brutal summer in many other areas -- affordable healthcare, family planning, the environment, a burgeoning constitutional morass. Those pressing issues, with so many implications for our future, will continue to demand answers, and accountability.

Congress And The Tangled Web Of Trump And Russia

To be perfectly honest, the Rodney Report was procrastinating this morning over the massive info-dump known as the weekly Trump/Russia update. Instead, we drank our 17th cup of coffee and watched a video of a Good Samaritan gently cutting through a thicket of netting tangled around an adorable little seal pup. Oh, go ahead and watch it too. You know you want to.

Look, it was nice to see SOMEBODY untangling a mess, for a change. (Yes, even baby seals can be political metaphors nowadays.)

For all the talk about uncharted territory and unheard-of constitutional questions, a big reason we’re in an unprecedented situation is an unprecedented reluctance on the part of the majority party in Congress to hold up its bit of the checks-and-balances operation. As the Chief Executive tweets about pardon powers and hints at muzzling or perhaps even firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller, the real suspense is centered on Capitol Hill. How important is the integrity of our country’s electoral process to this Congress? How much will be too much? What will it take?

Today, the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is expected to deny that any collusion with the Russian government was involved in the course of his four meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort were to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But public testimony appears to be on hold. The First Son beefed up his legal team over the weekend, negotiating a private meeting with senators. Sens. Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein issued a joint statement that neither Trump Jr. nor Manafort would be subpoenaed for Wednesday’s hearing, but both would privately provide the committee with interviews and documents.

So information will continue to roll in, along with the Oval Office tweetstorms. We will continue to wonder what Congress, and specifically our own representative, will decide is grounds for action. And we will continue to hope for leadership that is patriotic, not partisan.

Appropriations: The Air We Breathe, The Water We Drink ...

This week, Frelinghuysen’s newsletter touted $10 million in the Appropriations bill that’s earmarked for The Highlands Conservation Act. Introduced and signed into law back in 2004, that act is his baby, aimed at conserving land and natural resources in the Highlands regions of New Jersey, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania. “Preserving the New Jersey Highlands is a major federal priority,” asserts Frelinghuysen, adding that as a key source of drinking water in the nation’s most densely populated metro area, “the Highlands is a critical area in need of protection.” It’s too bad that the new budget also includes language that will require the repeal of water-jurisdiction regulations, an Obama-era rule that was enacted to protect wetlands and waterways from pollution.

Then, too, the congressman provides no description of what a scaled-back Environmental Protection Agency budget will mean for us here in Jersey, home to 105 Superfund sites. The House budget will cut EPA funding by $528 million. That’s a smaller cut than the Trump administration proposed, but it still means a 30 percent cut in Superfund cleanup money, and it hits hard at an agency that is already in crisis. The EPA’s chief administrator, Scott Pruitt, is aggressively working towards dismantling the agency, offering buyouts to staff. He claims he wants to streamline operations, while at the same time saying he wants to clean up Superfund sites. This seems to indicate a willingness to work with anyone will get the job done on the cheap. Considering that Pruitt has put the Superfund Task Force under the oversight of an Oklahoma banker with zero experience in environmental clean-up work, this fear seems pretty well-founded.

Our congressman tends to straddle fences when it comes to environmental policy. During a telephone town hall, he called the EPA "an absolutely necessary federal agency." He also said it leaned a little too hard on business. Maybe that’s why the new spending bill slashes the EPA budget by seven percent. It’s hard to see how this will help the EPA fulfill its mission to protect us from pollutants in the air we breathe and the water we drink, and to ensure the clean-up of neighborhoods where toxic waste is buried.

What’s Riding In Those Minibuses

Frelinghuysen’s newsletter announced that his Appropriations committee has passed all 12 of their spending bills and are moving them to the House floor, not as the expected large “omnibus” spending package, but as several “minibus” packages.  The first minibuses roll in for a vote this week and include Defense, Energy-Water, Legislative Branch and Military Construction.

“The first responsibility and the highest priority of Congress is to ensure the safety and security of our nation,” Frelinghuysen writes, explaining why national security legislation is the first minibus up for debate. It could also be that, if approved, the $74 billion increase in that legislation would provide a fine excuse for all the other deep cuts in the budget. 

Frelinghuysen listed ”a brief rundown” of achievements contained in several other bills completed by the committee last week, which included Homeland Security, Interior and Related Agencies, Labor-Health and Human Services, and State-Foreign Operations. We’ll add our own brief rundown of provisions the congressman neglected to mention.

Homeland Security contains some of the few significant increases over current spending -- $1.6 billion for “physical barrier construction” (i.e., The Wall; more on that in a bit); $620 million increase for ICE.

Interior and Related Agencies have seen yearly cuts since 2010 and are already operating lean. Frelinghuysen doesn’t mention that, nor does he mention the $528 million in EPA cuts and $800 million cut from the Interior, nearly one third of which comes from the Land and Water conservation fund. This ignores required responses to the Endangered Species Act. 

In Labor/Health and Human Services/Education, the bill:

  •  Eliminates the “Fiduciary” rule, so financial advisors no longer need to put their clients’ interests above their own.
  •  Completely eliminates Title X family planning funding.
  •  Continues the drive to defund Obamacare by excluding funds to implement Obamacare programs.
  •  Cuts the Centers for Disease Control by almost $200 million, and continues to ban the CDC from discussing gun violence.
  •  Cuts Education by $2.5 billion; fails to offer substantive assistance to low- and middle-income college students; cuts the Fulbright scholarship program.

 

In State-Foreign Relations, this budget:

  •  Ensures that a “gag” rule remains in effect, dictating how family planning clinics all over the world can operate if they collect any fraction of their operating costs from the U.S.
  •  Cuts diplomatic programs in Cuba.
  •  Cuts $600 million from UN programs -- including the Green Climate Fund; international debt relief; the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

 

Who’s Paying For The Wall? We Are, Of Course.

We can’t leave the minibuses without mentioning a significant stowaway. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy plans to sneak in $1.6 billion for Trump’s border wall via an amendment to the package, even though Homeland Security funding is not included in this week’s group of bills.

Trump asked for $1.6 billion, Congress gave him … $1.6 billion. That would be for 60 miles of wall divided by $1.6 billion, meaning a cool $26,666,666 per mile of fence. Yes, that fence is costing $26 million per mile. Don’t you feel safer already?

The border with Mexico is 1900 miles long, and only 654 miles of fence are up so far. Estimates for the cost of fencing the entire thing range from $12 billion (Trump’s estimate on the campaign trail, enough said) to over $21 billion, based on the numbers in the current budget for another 600 to 700 miles of wall by the end of 2020.

There’s no telling how many more of our tax dollars will be shoveled into this project. Frelinghuysen and his committee gave Trump exactly what he asked for this year, despite our representative’s own words in his March telephone town hall.

This past week during a visit to D.C., NJ 11th For Change member Adam McGovern talked with Steve Wilson, Frelinghuysen’s senior policy staffer. Adam reports Steve asserted that the billion-plus dollars that Rodney approved for the Wall was not actually for the Wall, but for border “enhancements” in line with the “fence” legislation passed in the mid-2000s. But Steve admitted he wasn’t really sure of the budget wording.

The Wall is just the tip of an immigration-funding nightmare. Frelinghuysen has granted nearly all of Trump’s funding requests, including $185 million for additional U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol officers. There’s also  $4.4 billion for detention and removal programs, including funding to expand by more than 4,600 the capacity of detention camps that house children and families.

There is one bit of good immigration legislation, though. Last Wednesday Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced the Dream Act, a reminder of strong bipartisan support for Dreamers—immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, who are seeking citizenship. According to a recent Morning Consult and Politico poll, 78% of American voters support giving Dreamers the chance to stay permanently in America, including 73% of people who voted for President Donald Trump.

So thanks, Senators Graham and Durbin. Nice to see representatives who actually listen to what constituents think.

Rodney: Live at Last?

We were pretty bowled over to hear Frelinghuysen seemingly agree to a Town Hall when approached last week by Rockaway Democratic Chair Emily Krasinsky Kullmann at the White Meadow Lakes Festival in Rockaway Township.

Captured on video by Morristown Green, Kullman invited Frelinghuysen to hold a town hall in White Meadow Lakes, where there are “people, not just rich people,’’ to which Frelinghuysen replied, “I’d be happy to.’’

He added, “I know you have some preconceived notions, but I’m a pretty reasonable person.’’

We’ll see. Despite repeated requests from NJ 11th For Change among others, Frelinghuysen has not held a Town Hall since 2013. Instead, he has held “tele town halls,’’ a trend that’s gained popularity among Republicans who have often faced angry constituents at in-person Town Halls. The call-in Town Halls are “attended” by thousands of constituents who register and are contacted on short notice, while questions are pre-screened.

That’s not quite enough for many people.  According to a Politico poll cited in February, 56 percent of respondents said they preferred live Town Halls. Many supporters also said their representatives didn’t spend enough face time in their districts, a view that was held by both Republicans and Democrats. Among Democrats, 51 percent said their representatives were too remote, and 48 percent of Republicans felt the same.

 -- Elizabeth Juvilier, Liz Lynch, Jane J. Hunsecker, Naomi Rand, Liz Jarit, Karen Rose, Mara Novak 

 

 

 

 

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