Pallone discusses Democratic priorities for upcoming session of Congress

BY David Cruz, Senior Correspondent |

One of the most powerful people in the next Congress will be a 15-term congressman from New Jersey, poised to become head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that has jurisdiction over key issues including energy, environment and health. Rep. Frank Pallone  joins Senior Correspondent David Cruz.

Cruz: So you were a freshman in, what, 1988?

Pallone: Yes.

Cruz: This is probably the most interesting time that you’ve had in Congress, just in terms of the craziness that is America today, no?

Pallone: I would agree. I think it is a very crazy and tough time, yes.

Cruz: What do you think of this freshman class?

Pallone: Well I think it’s, you know, energizing for me because we have so many new Democrats who, you know, want to get things done, and care about the public and are raring to go. Ideologically, it’s a complete spectrum, from some that are much more conservative and some that are very liberal and left-wing, and I think it kind of reflects the Democratic Party because we are a big spectrum.

Cruz: Even in the New Jersey delegation, right? You’ve got all the way to the left — I’d say maybe [Andy] Kim would be sort of the leftist of the bunch?

Pallone: No, I would think that of the new members, I think are more, I would say, moderate. You know, in our delegation. I mean, I consider myself a liberal. I think I would be to the left of all the new members.

Cruz: I’m saying out of that new bunch, the most liberal would have been Kim, would you think?

Pallone: I can’t categorize them. I think they’re all pretty moderate. You know, they ran in districts that lean Republican. I think they were very careful to say that they want to work on a bipartisan basis, and I would say they’re very centrist, all four.

Cruz: Now you say that the Democratic Party is this big tent, which is its strength, but it’s also its potential weakness, right?

Pallone: Yes.

Cruz: Because sometimes the inter-party squabbles are the ones that hurt the most.

Pallone: That is true. When you have a group that are very widespread in their ideology, sometimes it’s hard to get a consensus. But I do think it’s better to have that, because it’s more of a strength than a weakness.

Cruz: Is it your sense that the party runs that risk, now that it’s in the majority, in the House at least?

Pallone: Everybody ran on this “better deal” proposal, which was essentially our message. And I think that the “better deal” is a pretty centrist message and contrasts with Trump, and you know, the right-wing on the Republican side. You know, things like stabilize the Affordable Care Act so that insurance is affordable, a major infrastructure initiative, addressing climate change because we have to do something about, you know, increase in greenhouse gases.  I think it’s a type of agenda that we put forth that elected a majority that you can really sell anywhere in the country.

Cruz: What do you think you’ll be able to work with the president on? I mean, from the very beginning he’s talked about a major infrastructure initiative that has gone in and out of style over these first two years, and here would be a perfect opportunity for a president who may want to work something out with a part of the legislative body that is with the other party.

Pallone: I totally agree with you 100 percent.

Cruz: Can you get that done with him?

Pallone: I think so. And I mean, I think the easiest thing to get done — and I don’t say it’s easy — is an infrastructure vote, because essentially the president was trying to push it. But the Republican leadership didn’t want to pay for it, in the sense that they didn’t want to use federal dollars. And part of the reason for that was when they passed their tax bill, or their tax, you know, initiative, that they created a huge deficit of money. That deficit could have been used to pay for the infrastructure bill, so then they came back to President Trump and said, ‘Well, we’ll do it but it has to be paid for with state and private money,’ which doesn’t work. It just doesn’t exist.

Cruz: Right. And if you’re going, you know, keep spending money to try to build a wall and all those other priorities, then where’s the money going to come from for this infrastructure?

Pallone: Absolutely.

Cruz: We should say that the the wall at the southern border is not considered an infrastructure project right now.

Pallone: No, and even a lot of Republicans, as you know, think that the wall would be a huge waste of money and totally ineffective, you know.

Cruz: How do you now approach this president in a different position now, as a majority?

Pallone: Well, I think what we have to do is, you know, we put forward some ideas — infrastructure initiative would be one. Another would be another thing that Trump championed, and still does, is trying to lower the cost of prescription drugs. He came out in favor of negotiated prices under Medicare, and you know, initiatives that would encourage generics to create competition, so that’s another thing. In our committee — Energy and Commerce Committee, where I’ll be the chair beginning in January — we’ll try to do a major infrastructure bill. We’ll try to do negotiated prices under Medicare and some generic initiatives and see if we can get the Republicans in the Senate to say, look the president supports this, so why don’t you go along with him?

Cruz: Last question, is Nancy Pelosi the leader for this, the right person for the job?

Pallone: Absolutely. I think you know that we had our caucus and she was elected as the Speaker-designate.

Cruz: With less of a fight than everybody thought there was going to be.

Pallone: Yeah, I mean the problem is that on — and that’s why it keeps being discussed — is that on Jan. 3 when we’re sworn in, the speaker has to get 218 votes. But I think she will, so I think she’ll be fine.