The news out of Washington yesterday afternoon is that a tentative, although not final, framework for a compromise has been reached regarding the Biden administration $3.5 trillion Build Back Better social infrastructure package. The compromise will reduce the cost of the package to approximately $2 trillion and include expansion of safety net, health care, child care, and elderly care federal programs and activities, the final list to be determined.
Most significantly, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, consisting primarily of traditional brick and mortar infrastructure, previously passed in the Senate, will now proceed to enactment in the House of Representatives.
The immediate political beneficiary will be President Joe Biden himself. As shovels go into the ground pursuant to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Biden’s popularity will rebound, in fact, skyrocket. At the time of the anticipated bill signing during the last week of October, Biden will experience an initial burst of increased voter approval, which will secure the election of Democrat former Governor Terry McAuliffe in Virginia.
The initial downturn in Biden’s polls was prompted by the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. In the near future, however, Biden’s actions regarding Afghanistan will be a definite political popularity asset for him. Botched withdrawal or not, Biden will be recognized as the president who got us out of that quagmire, saving America thousands of lives, billions of dollars, and reversing the extraordinarily foolish Afghanistan policies of both his Republican and Democratic predecessors.
Yet the compromise contains two significant omissions in the Build Back Better package that will significantly endanger the 2022 reelection prospects of Democrat Josh Gottheimer, representing New Jersey’s Fifth Congressional District, comprised of municipalities in Bergen, Passaic, Warren, and Sussex counties. These omissions are 1) the failure of the compromise to include the restoration of all state and local income tax (SALT) deductions eliminated by the Donald Trump administration, and 2) the deletion from the Build Back Better bill of the original provisions financing and facilitating the rapid replacement of the nation’s coal-and gas-fired power plants with wind, solar and nuclear energy. The elimination of this clean energy power plant program resulted from the unyielding opposition of Joe Manchin, Senator from West Virginia, a state whose economy is heavily dependent on coal, an industry in which Manchin has significant personal investment.
Gottheimer is viewed almost universally as being responsible for these two significant exclusions. He had styled himself as the Sir Galahad heroically leading the war to restore the SALT deductions, but General Gottheimer lost.
As for the climate change/clean energy package, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s original plan was to condition
House enactment of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which had as mentioned above previously passed the Senate, on the simultaneous Senate passage of the Build Back Better Act. Josh Gottheimer led the opposition to this plan, and Nancy Pelosi yielded.
Manchin’s leverage was increased by Gottheimer’s victory. The West Virginia Senator-could now oppose the climate change/clean energy power plant package in the Build Back Better Package without being subject to claims of his jeopardizing House passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bottom line: Gottheimer’s victory on bill passage process on the two infrastructure bills enabled Manchin to achieve the elimination of the core of the Biden clean energy/climate change program.
The exclusion of SALT restoration and climate change/clean energy funding from the tentative final compromise is most damaging to New Jersey. The blame that Gottheimer will receive for these two failures will worsen significantly his job approval ratings.
The climate change omission will result in extremist left-wing Democrats of the “AOC Squad” variety running primary challenges throughout the country against center-left Democrats, of which Gottheimer will be a prime target. He will win the primary, but his victory will be Pyrrhic, leaving him significantly weakened, and then having to face the growing formidable challenge of Nick De Gregorio, the current frontrunner for the 2022 Republican Congressional nomination in the Fifth District.
Prior to the tentative budget compromise of yesterday, a poll taken by Lake Research Partners for progressive groups had shown a definite softness in terms of the enthusiasm of Gottheimer supporters. After this budget compromise, you will not see just softness in the support of Gottheimer – you will have growing negative attitudes towards him among his constituents.
DeGregorio is right out of central casting for the role of Gottheimer’s 2022 GOP opponent. He served with honor and bravery as a Marine Officer in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
He is a man of demonstrated achievement in the academic world, receiving degrees from two distinguished institutions of higher learning, his undergraduate degree from Bucknell, and his MBA /MS in foreign service from Georgetown. He is now a successful trader on Wall Street.
A personal note: This column is written as a political analysis, not as advocacy for either Gottheimer or De Gregorio. If De Gregorio’s position on climate change/clean energy does not meet with my approval, I probably will not support him. If De Gregorio does not win my endorsement, however, he still will have my profound admiration.
I also have seen more enthusiasm for Nick De Gregorio among both rank-and-file Republicans and leaders than virtually any other Republican Congressional challenger over the past four decades. He is indeed a phenomenon.
Before yesterday, Nick De Gregorio was an underdog candidate against Josh Gottheimer. After yesterday, he is now even money to defeat the Democrat incumbent Congressman, although it is far too early to make a definite prediction.
One fact is abundantly clear. Without leaving his home town of Fair Lawn in Bergen County, Nick De Gregorio has emerged as the prime New Jersey GOP winner of the current national budget wars.
And the prospect is real for the GOP in 2022 to gain two seats in the House of Representatives, Nick De Gregorio in the Fifth and Tom Kean, Jr. in the Seventh. Both candidates are most worthy and can win – if a way is found to prevent House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy from campaigning for either in New Jersey.
Alan J. Steinberg served as regional administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as executive director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission.