On Tuesday night, Washington gave itself a collective pat on the back for doing just enough to avoid plunging this nation into recession and, instead, they kicked the can down the road for two months. No doubt that two months from now, while the markets face more uncertainty and the government threatens to shut itself down, our elected representatives will once again shirk their responsibilities and fail to come up with a long term solution to get our nation’s deficit under control. After years of watching this game play out, why should we expect anything different this time from our so-called leaders?
Congressional approval ratings sit around 11% because the American people see the madness in Washington and clearly expect better out of their leaders. Yet, when I turn on my TV, I see angry Tea Party representatives doing everything they can to avoid compromise, oblivious liberals yet to get serious about out-of-control government spending and then, the worst group of all, the do-nothing representatives who are more interested in returning to Washington than leading on significant issues. In the last few months, as the nation’s leadership position in the world has further deteriorated, I have taken a keen interest in the actions of my own do-nothing congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen.
First, there were the fiscal cliff negotiations – a truly breathtaking exercise where Congress created a problem and then took until midnight the day after the designated deadline to reach a sub-par resolution. A few days before the deadline, I called Congressman Frelinghuysen's office to see where he stood and what he was doing to address our uncertain financial future. The response from his staff was simple – “Congressman Frelinghuysen supports his leadership.” That didn’t sound like leadership to me, but, of course, it would have been difficult for the Congressman to take an active leadership role while he was joining other GOP congressman on a taxpayer-funded junket to Southeast Asia.
Then, Tuesday evening, as the House passed a 13th hour bill to avoid the fiscal cliff, Congressman Frelinghuysen’s lack of leadership skills was truly put on display. As a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, it was Rodney Frelinghuysen who was leading efforts to get the House to pass the Sandy relief bill. The Senate had done its job and, as Governor Christie noted, we were delayed an unprecedented 66 days already in getting the House to pass a bill to give New York, New Jersey and Connecticut the federal aid we so desperately needed. Amazingly, that leader that Congressman Frelinghuysen put his all faith in when it came to the fiscal cliff, John Boehner, decided to please his Tea Party base and secure his own reelection as Speaker by leaving our bill off the floor.
The next day, real leaders stepped up. One by one, members of the New York and New Jersey delegations in the House, Democrats and Republicans, took to the floor to express outrage. Rep. Peter King spoke eloquently of the GOP’s readiness to raise money in New York and New Jersey when they need us but leave us at our time of need. Governor Christie slammed Speaker Boehner’s leadership for playing us as a pawn. In newspapers across the country, I read every elected representative in this state speaking up to pressure Speaker Boehner to take up the aid bill. At the end of the day, this public pressure worked and the leaders who stepped up and put their own party affiliation aside to do right by this region deserve great credit. But where was Rodney Frelinghuysen? Once again, silent.
As Governor Christie so appropriately said the other day when surveying the debacle in Washington, “It's why the American people hate Congress.”