GLEN ROCK, NJ – As of Tuesday afternoon, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-CD5) announced that an agreement was made to have a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by September 27 and then move onto a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation. The announcement marks a victory for the Democratic Congressman who leads the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, and whom many progressives said has been “obstructionist” with respect to much-needed legislation, especially at a time when the Congress is balanced on a knife’s edge.
“Now is the time for all Democrats to stand together in support of President Biden’s agenda and the transformative impact it will have on our country when it is passed and signed into law,” New Jersey State Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones said following the agreement. “I share Governor Murphy’s support for both the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package and I thank all members of our state’s congressional delegation for uniting behind the President and working together to pass both pieces of legislation.”
“Gottheimer” is not a name widely known outside of New Jersey, but the three-term congressman is now gaining national attention as a result of his unwillingness to support the budget resolution before the infrastructure bill–which already passed the Senate–could be voted on.
Both Gottheimer’s supporters and progressive groups in opposition to the congressman accused the others of holding President Biden’s agenda hostage. The infrastructure deal all but settled now, the Democrats will need all-hands-on-deck for the $3.5 trillion package.
“Some have suggested that we hold off on voting for the infrastructure package,” Gottheimer said. “But, if we do that, there is a real risk that it may never become law. The House can’t afford to wait months or do anything that will jeopardize passing this infrastructure bill or losing the bipartisan support behind it. As they say in Washington, time kills bills. We have this opportunity within our grasp, let’s not blow it. Once the infrastructure bill is passed and signed into law by President Biden, we can quickly move on to our next major priority — called ‘budget reconciliation’ — which will include reinstating the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT); adding hearing, vision, and dental benefits as part of Medicare; increasing support for child care; and implementing critical climate protections and other important provisions. That bill hasn’t even been written yet, and it will take time to consider it appropriately.”
Gottheimer said that as the Senate has already passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the House should move and get it to the Oval Office ASAP. “Our country needs this legislation,” the congressman said. “New Jersey needs it. After years of gridlock on infrastructure, we can finally show Americans that, indeed, we can unite, put country first, and govern together.”
Now, at least sometime not beyond September 27, he will have it.
Prior to the announcement, about 60 demonstrators from various New Jersey progressive entities gathered in front of Congressman Gottheimer’s Harristown Road office in Glen Rock Monday at noon. Among them were NJ Working Families Alliance, Our Revolution New Jersey, the League of Conservation Voters, Make the Road NJ, and others. With signs demanding attention for a host of different issues, they all agreed that Gottheimer was playing for the wrong team, standing in the way unnecessarily. They did not believe the bipartisan infrastructure bill was in any danger of not passing, but that the budget reconciliation package very well would be without Gottheimer and his allies lined up behind it.
“He is out of step with the party, he’s out of step with the majority Americans, and he’s out of step with most people in his district,” Sue Altman of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance told Insider NJ.
Gottheimer had joined with LiUNA members on Friday, gaining their support for the infrastructure bill. Gottheimer asserted he would support the $3.5 trillion budget resolution, but insisted the infrastructure act be moved on before that could be considered. “We have the votes to pass this legislation right now,” Gottheimer said, “which is why I believe we should first vote immediately on the bipartisan infrastructure package, send it to the President’s desk, and then quickly consider the budget resolution, which I plan to support. We need to get people to work and shovels in the ground.”
Wearing orange shirts, LiUNA members posted themselves at a respectable distance from the much-larger progressivist demonstration in Glen Rock. On the receiving end of some impassioned critiques from the protestors, they held fast. Collingswood Commissioner Rob Lewandowski stood with the union members, saying, “We are here to support Congressman Gottheimer. We think he has the right approach, which is, don’t couple the once-in-a-lifetime bipartisan-passed-and-supported piece of legislation that will more than triple the amount of infrastructure spending in New Jersey and create over 160,000 jobs at risk by coupling it with another piece of legislation. That is risky, it’s a game of chicken we do not want to play and we think they should pass that infrastructure bill now.”
In Paramus on Sunday, Gottheimer stumped for the infrastructure bill before the Bergen County Building and Construction Trades Council and other labor organizations. He said, “As they say in Washington, time kills bills. We have this opportunity within our grasp. Why would we blow it? For New Jersey’s sake, we need to get the infrastructure bill to the President’s desk. Now, not later. This bill is too important for anyone to use as a political football.”
Altman said, “It is disappointing that the laborers are here in support of Gottheimer. Often, progressives get labeled as being out of step with the party, but here we have a great example of how the more conservative elements are the ones out of step. I’m shocked and disappointed is trying to derail Biden’s agenda. He is a popular president who is doing a great job, and this is a landmark piece of legislation that this country needs.”
Monday afternoon’s announcement of an agreement to vote on the infrastructure bill was hailed Gottheimer hailed the agreement, which is a major victory for the congressman and will likely further embitter New Jersey progressives looking to get him to bend. “With this week’s votes,” Gottheimer said, “we will also immediately begin the budget resolution process, which will include key policies, from climate protections to health care to universal pre-K to SALT that are critical for Northern New Jersey. The country has waited far too long for legislation that will actually fix our crumbling roads, bridges, and tunnels, including the Gateway Tunnel, and this deal ensures the House will pass the bipartisan package by September 27.”
Lewandowski said added, “The idea of taking something that is already ready to go and fix bridges in a state with a D+ rating by the American Civil Engineers Association, bottle necks of traffic, clean water, electric charging stations, all the things this legislation would do, we need. As much as there is gamesmanship in Washington, we are saying we don’t think you should play it. Get this bill done and get it done now.”
Altman hammered Gottheimer for seemingly taking advantage of a political opportunity when a greater good could be served. “I think that [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi worked very hard to make sure that she had the votes. I think that we only have a congress that is blue for a certain amount of time and we have to take advantage when we have that majority. Pelosi is a masterful dealmaker, and she knew what buttons to push, she was going to get it done, if not for these obstructionist Democrats. I don’t think it is at all ‘moderate’ to stand against these things that this country needs.”
Altman further attacked Gottheimer’s purple approach for causing damage to the party on the national level. “I think that the more people cannot differentiate between the two parties, the worse off Democrats are because it means we get lumped in with the crap sandwich that the Republicans expect Americans to eat.”
As far as bipartisanship goes, it means little for Susan Steinberg of Indivisible NJ who sees it as fundamentally self-defeating for the congressman. “No matter what he does, the Right in our district doesn’t like him and spews venom at him. The fact that he has a D next to his name means they will never support him. He wants to be really purple.”
Gottheimer was not without any redeeming quality for the progressives, according to Steinberg. “One thing Josh does regularly, and he will always win over a Republican candidate for me, is that he supports a woman’s right to choose. I do not question his commitment to that one thing, but that’s not enough. He was the only Democrat who was invited to the Trump White House and the Biden White House. As leader of the Problem Solvers Caucus, he has some power in Washington, except it only seems to convince Democrats to vote Republican, not Republicans to vote Democrat.”
CD5 spans the northern portion of New Jersey, areas both rural, suburban, and urban, representing a diverse constituency. Previously, the district was firmly red with Congressman Scott Garrett as its representative. Gottheimer captured the district in 2016 and has held on ever since, but the times have changed. Progressives do not see the necessity for Gottheimer to play a balancing act when he has the voter advantage—a shift from when he first took office. “In 2016 he had to unseat a Republican,” Steinberg said, “and unseating incumbents in this state is next to impossible no matter what their party is. Scott Garrett had done so many horrible things, it was a little easier for [Gottheimer], and people just couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Scott Garrett. But in 2020 there were more registered Democrats in his district than Republicans. He does not have to run on a Republican agenda. There are many pockets in his district which are red but the district doesn’t require him to be so Republican. As I said to his office, the Right doesn’t like him no matter what, he might as well make us happy. Better to win with one than lose with both!”
Gottheimer, however, after getting the agreement from House leadership appears not have lost anything at all, but rather quite the opposite, as far as DC is concerned.
The progressive groups plan to seek out a Democratic candidate with a deeper blue to run against the incumbent in the next primary.
Lewandowski said of the progressivist demonstrators, “I respect the fact they are here. We don’t necessarily disagree on ends but we disagree on means. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that sometimes bad things happen when we try these kinds of tactics and we can’t afford to lose this opportunity to have $12.5 billion just in formula aid coming to New Jersey for clean drinking water, for repairs of roads, rails, bridges. The rail tunnel into New York City is 111 years old. What happens if that has to shut down? It would be a tragedy for the entire country, the single busiest train line in the country. We have to do better than that. This legislation will help us.”
One thing is certain, with a potential crisis for Democrats in Washington DC seemingly averted, the power and prestige of the congressman has demonstrated a considerable ascent. Assuming Democrats continue to stand together from here on, the American people should expect both bills to be signed into law.