The Democrats are about to control the White House and Congress for the first time since 2011.
That means President-elect Joe Biden will have members of his own party setting the congressional agenda rather than the opposition.
Plenty of legislation important to New Jersey made it through the Democratic-controlled House the past two years, while the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider them.
But because of two victories in Georgia’s U.S. Senate elections last week, Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York now will be deciding which bills to bring up rather than Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. So things will change very soon.
Here are nine ways the new order in D.C. will affect New Jersey:
1. Another stimulus check. The only reason you didn’t get $2,000 instead of $600 is because McConnell refused to bring the House-passed bill up for a vote. Schumer said the higher payments are “one of the first things that I want to do.”
2. Restoring your property tax deduction. To fund their tax cuts, President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans capped the deduction for state and local taxes at $10,000, less than the average in every one of New Jersey’s 21 counties.
While most of those taking advantage of that deduction were middle-class homeowners socked with high property taxes, more of the savings went to wealthier taxpayers. But House-passed legislation addressed that by requiring only the rich to pay for restoring the deduction by returning the top tax rate to where it was before Trump and the GOP cut it.
“I’m already working with my colleagues in the delegation who are chomping at the bit,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-9th Dist., a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “Middle-class tax relief is at the top of our agenda.”
3. More clout for Jersey’s senators. U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez again will chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. More importantly for the Garden State, he would chair the Senate subcommittee that oversees New Jersey Transit, giving him the power to set the agenda and move legislation to benefit public transportation agencies. That committee also oversees the Federal Transit Administration, which is contributing $766.5 million to help replace the Portal Bridge.
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker is in line to chair the Superfund subcommittee, no small matter to a state that has more Superfund sites than anyone else. And he will be in the majority on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that will play a major role in drafting a new surface transportation bill.
4. Health care. As many as 600,000 New Jerseyans could lose their health insurance if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with Trump and congressional Republicans and declares the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.
As chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-6th Dist., will be leading efforts to strengthen the existing health care law rather than repeal it, and perhaps develop a legislative fix to address the case before the Supreme Court issues a ruling.
The House passed Pallone-sponsored bills to lower health care costs and prescription drug prices, but both measures died without a vote in the Senate in the last Congress. That isn’t likely to happen with Democrats in control.
5. Gateway. Schumer is a leading supporter of the new Gateway Tunnel under the Hudson River and is in a position to make sure the federal government pays its share. At one point, Trump threatened to shut down the government if the budget includes funding for Gateway. That won’t happen with Biden in the White House.
6. Money to pay cops and teachers. Trump and most Senate Republicans opposed bipartisan efforts to give cash-strapped states and localities billions of dollars to help pay the salaries of first responders, health care workers, teachers and other public employees in the latest stimulus bill. The provision is a top priority of congressional Democrats.
7. Protecting the Jersey shore. The House voted to ban offshore oil drilling off the Jersey Shore after Trump proposed putting rigs off Jersey’s beaches, but the measure never cleared the Senate. Now Congress could pass a permanent ban, preventing a future president from opening the Atlantic Coast to drilling.
8. Marijuana. When New Jerseyans voted last November to legalize cannabis, they did so in violation of federal law. House efforts to remove the federal ban on marijuana have gone nowhere in the Senate under Republican rule but Schumer is on record as wanting to decriminalize the drug.
Lifting the federal ban could have important implications such as giving banks the ability to offer credit cards and checking accounts to legal cannabis businesses, and make it easier to study any medicinal benefits of pot, including for military veterans.
“Senator Schumer’s ascension to majority leader will mark the first time in U.S. history that the upper chamber is led by a senator who is openly calling for cannabis legalization,” said Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
9. Immigration. The future of New Jersey’s 16,350 dreamers will remain in flux until Congress acts, and Biden’s promise to enact immigration legislation is more realistic with the Democrats in control of both chambers.
That bill also likely would include a permanent solution to the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., including 425,000 in New Jersey, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Menendez was one of eight senators whose bipartisan immigration bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate in 2013, but House Republicans refused to bring it up for a vote.
Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.