By Laura D.C. Kolnoski |
KEYPORT – Stabilizing the Affordable Care Act, protecting the environment, infrastructure initiatives, and gun and immigration reform are among Congressman Frank Pallone Jr.’s top priorities, but he admits the improvements he seeks won’t be possible without a change in party leadership in Washington, D.C.
Pallone (D-NJ 6th District) convened his annual Reporter’s Roundtable breakfast in Keyport on Aug. 6, inviting local media from Monmouth and Middlesex counties to get an update and ask questions. Striking a hopeful tone, he acknowledged his “frustrations” over the challenges currently faced by Congressional Democrats while detailing potential solutions and citing some successes. Pallone is the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over issues pertaining to energy, environment, health care, commerce, and telecommunications.
“President (Donald) Trump and his policies have a negative impact on New Jersey,” Pallone said, citing the stalled Gateway Tunnel connecting New Jersey with New York, repercussions aimed at so-called sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants, and efforts to drill for oil in the Atlantic off tourist hot spots along the shore. “It seems like he’s just picking on us and other ‘blue’ states.”
“But we have had successes,” he continued. “The Supreme Court overruled the prohibition on sports betting and a package to combat the opioid epidemic passed. Both Democrats and Republicans are opposed to offshore drilling and want to work on flood insurance. I don’t want anyone to lose hope. In Congress we work together and have cordial relationships. The media hypes up the discord more than what exists, and the president promotes discord. A lot we do doesn’t get much attention because Republicans don’t want to admit they work with me and other Democrats on things like environmental issues.”
Remediating brownfields, creating a long-term flood insurance plan, keeping fuel efficiency standards in place, and ensuring clean air and water are top environmental concerns, the congressman said.
“The environment has had more damage done to it than any other area; so many protections have been weakened or cut back, it’s downright scary,” Pallone said. “Scrapping fuel efficiency, vacating the Paris Climate Agreement and supporting coal – these things don’t make any sense. Jobs in the coal industry go down every month no matter what Trump does.” He said environmental groups keep track of the federal government’s actions as well as the president’s proposals, noting, “Trump doesn’t always follow through.”
Pallone is the lead sponsor of the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, (H.R. 2479), introduced last year by Democrats. The broad infrastructure package includes broadband, drinking water, health care, the electric grid, brownfields and renewable energy infrastructure. It sets out five years of funding for essential improvements, job growth, and greater protections for public health and the environment, proposing over a trillion dollars in federal funding. He said the president’s corporate tax break should be cut, with that money going into the nation’s infrastructure.
“Trump’s infrastructure plan was hollow plus he cut the budget, saying states and local governments should pay for it,” Pallone stated. “That went nowhere because there was no money.”
The wide range of topics discussed also included:
- 3-D and Other High-Tech Weapons – The Congressman believes the government isn’t keeping pace with advancing technology, and advocates for reducing gun violence by limiting magazine capacity and assault weapons, expanding background checks, closing loopholes and addressing untraceable weapons produced by a computer printer.
- Sanctuary Cities – After hearing personal stories at a detention center in Elizabeth in June, Pallone said “localities must be able to have some discretion regarding the policies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Cities are complying with ICE, they just disagree on certain things and want limitations.”
- DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) – Pallone believes the question of whether individuals brought to the United States illegally as children should receive deferred action from deportation will end up before the Supreme Court. “We in Congress are trying to address it but the Freedom Caucus, which used to be the Tea Party, attaches all kinds of limitations on it.”
- Privacy Laws – “I think we need to do certain things to protect privacy,” Pallone said. “We need to have hearings on all entities like Facebook. The Republicans had a hearing and embarrassed Mark Zuckerberg, then they moved onto something else. Now, the burden is on the user. The burden needs to be shifted.”
Questioned about voluntarily hosting a media event and entertaining all questions, Pallone said that while he’s not always pleased with his own press coverage, he supports reporters. “The only time things get done is when the press exposes something and highlights it,” he said repeatedly.
A Long Branch native, Pallone, 66, was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1988 from New Jersey’s former Third District, encompassing parts of Monmouth and Ocean counties. In 1992, a new Congressional district map was adopted. Portions of the former Third District were merged with parts of two other districts to create the Sixth Congressional District, taking in large portions of Middlesex and Monmouth counties. Pallone was first elected to the Sixth District seat in November 1992. He will face Republican Richard Pezzullo, a Bronx native who now resides in Freehold, in the November 2018 election.
This article was first published in the August 9-16, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
If you liked this story, you’ll love our newspaper. Click here to subscribe