Democratic victories in Ga. give new life to NJ’s priorities in Congress
Narrow victories by Democrats in two U.S. Senate runoff elections in Georgia breathe new life into stalled priorities of New Jersey in Congress, once Democrats take control of the elected branches of the federal government in a few weeks.
Their control is extremely narrow – a 50/50 Senate in which Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will break tie votes and an 11-seat Democratic advantage in the 435-member House. But federal aid to states, the Gateway rail tunnel and a repeal of the so-called SALT deduction cap are more likely.
“It will be easier to find support for the Biden agenda, which New Jerseyans overwhelmingly endorsed in November,” said Rowan University political scientist Ben Dworkin.
Gov. Phil Murphy said the difference between a Democratic- and Republican-controlled Senate could be significant.
“The probability for things like state and local aid have gone up dramatically. That’s a big deal for New Jersey, as it is for every American state. I think the likelihood that shovels go into the ground sooner on things like that Gateway project have gone up,” Murphy said.
“I think this is a longer road, but the state and local tax deduction limit, which has been crippling to a lot of states, including ours, I think that’s now back on the table,” he said. “And I think it would be a mistake not to acknowledge that those are actual probabilities that have moved in a direction which are favorable for New Jersey and our residents.”
Dworkin said it’s important that issues like infrastructure investment aren’t specific solely to New Jersey.
“There are, particularly on the tunnel, I think, there are coalitions of support for these kinds of things. New Jersey isn’t the only state looking for support. There are Republican governors who want this as well,” Dworkin said. “The SALT deduction affects a multitude of states. And the Gateway tunnel is critical to the national economy.”
The shift of control of the Senate also means New Jersey’s Democratic senators are no longer in the minority party, at least for the beginning of President-elect Joe Biden’s term.
“Cory Booker and Bob Menendez have newfound power because they will be in the majority,” Dworkin said.
Menendez, who ranks 22nd in seniority in the Senate, is expected to become chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He held that post for nearly two years from 2013 to 2015, then became the ranking member after Republicans won control of the Senate in the 2014 midterms.
Dworkin said Menendez takes back leadership of the prestigious committee at a time with many foreign policy challenges – including Iran, China and the Russia hack of the United States government – and a lot to debate about America’s role in the world.
While the committee doesn’t bring with it the opportunities to steer appropriations to home-state projects, Dworkin said it is an important position that can benefit New Jersey through the “backscratching” that makes up Senate relationships.
“Being powerful in the Senate means that other people are going to want to help you,” he said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.