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Remarks on Congressional Priorities
It’s great to be back at Ramapo, now, officially as your Congressman. It’s especially important to be here at the Small Business Development Center.
I want to acknowledge two of the SBDC’s success stories whose executives are here with us -- Lobster Life Systems and Rinn ABA Consulting. These small businesses are making a real difference in the economic development of our community, which is one of my highest priorities, and we all thank you for what you’re doing and we’re thrilled with the progress you’re making.
Every big business started as a small business, and they all had a big idea and entrepreneurs willing to work their hearts out. Apple and Microsoft started in a garage … Facebook in a dorm room … McDonalds was a single burger joint. Like Lobster and Rinn, they all had a vision for how to do something better, more efficiently, to solve a problem or fulfill a demand. That’s the business world I come from, too. At Microsoft, I helped run a strategic team that pursued new ideas and innovations. There were about thirty of us, and I can tell you, if our job performance was anything like Congress has been – we’d all have been fired.
I first got involved in politics, long before Microsoft, when I was just about the age of most of the students here. I had my first internship in the United State Congress, working in an office that’s just a few feet from where my office is now.
It wasn't that many years ago, in the grand scheme of things, but it certainly was a different time. People didn't go to Washington then just to kick and scream and Tweet nasty things. They didn't run for Congress just to run away from solving problems or with the sole intention to obstruct the other side, regardless of whether or not an idea was good for the country. The presidency wasn't a giant reality show.
Fast forward, and today, Congress has a nineteen percent approval rating.
It's no wonder so many people your age, and millions of other Americans, have lost faith in our system and, too many, have little interest in getting involved.
That’s why I came here this morning – because we are at a critical crossroad in our nation’s history. Not only because we will be swearing in our next President tomorrow and witnessing the peaceful, democratic transition of power. But also because one party will officially take control of both houses of Congress and the White House. So, it will be a real test to see how both sides handle it.
Just two weeks on the job, I can tell you that it would be easy for Republicans to shoot the moon and just ignore my side of the aisle. And just as easy as a Democrat to hide behind a wall, lobbing water balloons at the other side. To obstruct in all cases. But, personally, that’s not why I ran, and I don’t believe it’s what the American people want.
I ran for Congress because we can't go on like this -- down the destructive path we’ve been headed. America deserves better. You, our future leaders, deserve better – and we need to get you involved and engaged.
And here's the good news: I'm optimistic – and I want you to be, too. Our country’s Founders never thought running our country would be easy. After all, the preamble of our Constitution opens with “in order to form a more perfect Union.” They recognized that being perfect would always be in the distance, and making progress would take hard work every single day.
It starts with a willingness to actually work together for a common good, and recognizing, as Bill Clinton said in his First Inaugural Address, the first one I attended “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America."
I believe that we can get things back on track if we are just willing to actually speak to one another again -- to actually sit down at the table with a piece of legislation and figure out if we can agree on 80 percent of an issue, not insist on 100 percent. The all or nothing approach is stopping our progress. What we have to do, and what I’m already trying to do, is bring pragmatic solutions to move us forward. It doesn’t need to be zero sum. And those who claim otherwise are usually giving you a false choice between two things—like being able to grow the economy and protect the environment—when there is usually a third way to get there.
But what's happened instead is that it's all too often seen as a weakness to negotiate with the other side. People would rather take their ball and go home instead of finding a way to work together, instead of finding a solution. I'm not talking about compromising your values; I mean accepting most of what you want, so you can actually move America forward. Americans want progress from their leaders and that’s what I’m already trying to do.
When I worked in the private sector, at Ford, Microsoft, and I know the small business people here understand this, if I had shown up at work, sat at the deal table, and just yelled at the guy sitting across from me -- they would have thrown me out the door. But that's what Washington does all too often. We've retreated to our corners, presume the other side has it all wrong, too many only read media produced by others who share their narrow views, and then come out wielding a stick, never a carrot.
That's no way to run a business and certainly no way to run a government – and we must change it. And listen, I know that we’re not going to get everything we want at once, but progress comes step by step, and accomplishing something for what you believe in is far better than doing nothing at all.
Now, I understand why many of my fellow Democrats aren’t going to the Inauguration tomorrow, and I completely respect and understand their decision to peacefully protest. There’s plenty that I’m furious about, too. The fake news, the false attacks, the sexist and racist comments, and, of course, Russia's unconscionable meddling in our elections. And I’m supporting legislation to get to the bottom of that.
The insults and personal attacks of American heroes like John Lewis -- and John McCain – made this nearly an impossible decision because I will not stand for anyone disparaging an American icon.
But I will attend tomorrow’s Inauguration because, ultimately, I decided that, as a Member of Congress, and out of respect for our Constitution and for the Office of the Presidency, I should witness the peaceful transfer of power. I believe that the best way that I can make change is to participate – to be there to engage in the debate.
And I plan to take that approach in the weeks and months ahead: To speak out when I disagree and to speak up when I agree. Because I believe that you sent me to Washington to advocate for our community. So, if a good idea is proposed that will help us here in New Jersey and move our country forward, I will not obstruct just for the sake of obstructing, even though that was the tactic used all too often against our President and our country these last eight years.
My litmus test for governing is simple: Will the idea at hand help the Fifth Congressional District and does it respect our core values—our Jersey values.
I’m not in Congress to fight for a national party agenda; I’m here to fight for our Fifth District agenda.
And I am already working with Democrats, Republicans and Independents to achieve that goal, and I’ll work with the President-elect. It’s why I’ve already spent time with the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, and why I’ve sat down with Republicans, including several in the New Jersey delegation, looking for ways to work together.
That’s also why I’ve joined something called the “Problems Solvers” Caucus. We’re a group of members, from both parties, who will get together regularly to talk about areas of common ground. Through that group, one of the first bills I plan to co-sponsor is “No Budget, No Pay,” that would make sure that Congress doesn’t get paid if we don’t do our jobs and pass a budget. It’s common sense.
There are several places where I see potential common ground with many in the Republican Party, including President-elect Trump. Some common sense, pragmatic ideas that will help us here in the Fifth District. To strike the balance between opportunity and responsibility.
If President-elect Trump is serious about fixing our infrastructure, which includes roads and rail, broadband and our water system, I will work with him to make sure that we can make these investments without raising taxes.
Speaking of lower taxes, it’s no secret that I think our taxes, at all levels, are simply too high. Our corporate tax rates are ten to fifteen points higher than other nations around the world. The result is that companies are stockpiling profits, about two trillion worth, overseas and many are moving their headquarters and jobs out of the U.S. to take advantage of loopholes in our tax code. Our tax code is also way too complicated; it’s 187 times longer than it was a hundred years ago, and you need an advanced degree to figure it out.
We must simplify the tax code and lower our taxes, and cut unnecessary and out-of-date regulations, and I’ve already voted for several pieces of legislation that would do that. I will work with the President-elect, the Republican Party, and anyone else for that matter to make it happen.
And to make sure we do everything we can to attract and keep good-paying jobs here in our district. We can’t afford to keep losing the jobs and businesses like Hertz and Mercedes, that we need to keep all of you here. We have the second fastest wired broadband in the country, which is why we have the back-end of the New York Stock Exchange here in Mahwah, yet we are bleeding out good paying jobs. Why? It’s not because they don’t like our great schools, beautiful towns, or pizza. It’s because our taxes are too high and our regulations too burdensome.
And, in the meantime, I will make focus on lowering our property taxes by getting a better return on investment here in the Fifth District for all of those tax dollars we are sending to Washington. We pay some of the highest federal taxes in the nation, but we get back only 33 cents on the dollar for what we send to Washington. That’s less than half the New Jersey state average, and it’s even worse compared to other states. Places like West Virginia get back $4.23 for every $1 they send to Washington. That’s a raw deal! I ran on this issue and I intend to fix this issue, and I started with an announcement with Congressman Pascrell last week about SAFER grants for our fire departments.
I will also work across the aisle to improve health care and get costs under control. And for those of you who are under 26, and on your parent’s health insurance, this is particularly important. I get that the Republicans ran against the Affordable Care Act. And I agree that there is plenty wrong with the Affordable Care Act, including the Cadillac Tax and Medical Device Tax. It hasn’t done nearly enough to get costs under control.
But repealing the law without any plan in place to replace it isn’t a solution -- it’s self-inflicted chaos. Just throwing out the ACA would drive up insurance premiums for everyone, kick tens of thousands of young people, like many of the students here, off of their insurance, raise taxes on more than 200,000 New Jersey families, and make it difficult or impossible for three million Garden Staters with preexisting conditions to get health insurance. And on top of that, it would cost an estimated 86,000 jobs and add 350 billion dollars--that’s billion with a B--to the deficit.
We must not leave 20 million Americans, including 700,000 people here in New Jersey, on the side of the road. We need a bill that gets costs under control, keeps those covered with preexisting conditions and with mental health issues, and ensures that those like you under 26 have coverage.
So, I will work with anyone, no matter their party affiliation, to solve these problems and seize these opportunities.
But there are also lines I will not cross and areas where I will fight back like a pit-bull against President-elect Trump, the alt-right, or anyone else for that matter.
Because pragmatism doesn’t mean capitulation. There are some issues on which I will always stand firm.
On civil rights, a woman’s right to choose and earn equal pay for a day’s work is not up for debate, nor is the right to love and marry who you want and to be happy.
I will also always stand by and do what’s best for our veterans, law enforcement, and fire fighters, because I believe you stand by those who stand by you. That’s nonnegotiable.
And I will never move an inch on anything that would risk America’s national security, at home or around the world. It’s in the oath of office that I swore to and, given the spread of ISIS and lone wolf terrorism, it’s more important than ever that we are vigilant. And we must stand by our vital allies like Israel.
I will push back against attempts to undermine the power of Congress to be a check on the Presidency. I will fight attempts to dismantle important environmental protections that make sure our children have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.
As you know, Ramapo is a nationally-recognized best buy college. But even if you’re paying your own way or your parents are borrowing money to pay, it’s still too expensive. I will work to stand against any efforts to balance our budget on the backs of students who are working hard to better themselves. It’s ridiculous that students cannot refinance their loans for a lower interest rate, the same way you can refinance your car payment or mortgage while the federal government is actually making money from your interest payments. That makes no sense to me.
The bottom line: I’m in Congress to stand up for our shared values, our Jersey values, while always looking for solutions. And it won’t always be easy. Two days into the job, I was criticized by some supporters because I meant what I said about issues like tax reform and trying to find ways to work across the aisle for those of us who live in the Fifth District. The easy way out, of course, would have been just to cast a partisan vote. But my vote that day everyone was to let everyone know that I’m here to find pragmatic solutions for our District, and that will mean working with Republicans, when it makes sense.
But I can’t do this alone, and this is where I need your help. So, let’s start with something basic. How many of you voted in November? For those of you who voted, that’s just the beginning. For those of you who didn’t vote, there’s always another election. But, in the meantime, please get involved on something you care about. That’s what our Founding Fathers expected of American citizens. Make calls, send an email, post on Facebook, show up to a rally. You’ll be amazed about the difference you can make. And part of what you should do is tell me how I can help you, whether that’s about a veterans' issue, a pot-hole, or a student loan.
As Americans, we may not always agree on everything. But if we all do our part, and work toward building that more perfect union, we can achieve what our Founders had expected from us.
It may not seem so every day, but we just remember, we live in the greatest country in the world, and, if we’re willing to work together, I’m confident that our best days will always be ahead of us.
Thank you and God bless you.