Robert Menendez Q&A

The Senatorial Battle: Hugin vs. Menendez

Q: What are your key tenets regarding job creation and growing the economy, especially in New Jersey?

A: From my perch on the Senate Finance Committee, I try to drive a tax policy that encourages growth, creates opportunities for capital formation and gives tax incentives to the private sector to help them train the workforce of the future.

I am also proud to have worked with Senator Toomey on the permanent extension of the Small Business Expensing provisions, and proud of the work we are doing regarding infrastructure investment, which is a good way of boosting the economy. We are still making progress with the Gateway Tunnel project, of which I have been a champion of despite the [Trump] administration’s lack of cooperation. We put $500 million in the latest appropriation bill to move the project along.

Q: What changes would you make to our primary, secondary and higher education systems to advance the skills of the nation’s workforce?

A: At a time in which we are globally challenged in terms of a global economic environment, we need to have the most highly educated generation of Americans the nation has ever had.

We just passed, and I am a strong supporter of, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which helps in the area of career and technical training. We are better aligning resources with the private sector, particularly in workforce improvement centers so that we are educating and training people with the required skills they need.

I also fought for the greatest increase we have seen in many years in the Pell Grant Program. I am also a big promoter of free community college education with accreditation towards four-year colleges.

I want to refinance the nation’s student loan debt (currently at a trillion dollars) at today’s historically low interest rates. This would unlock enormous economic potential, such as giving individuals the freedom to be entrepreneurs, pursue their professions or buy their first home.

Q: What are your thoughts on how to best stabilize – or even reduce – healthcare costs?

A: I was one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act. While it was not a perfect law, a million New Jerseyans have healthcare coverage today who didn’t have it before. Approximately 3.8 million New Jerseyans who have a pre-existing condition no longer can be discriminated against. Lifetime caps, meaning you were one illness away from bankruptcy if you hit your cap, were eliminated. It also keeps your son or daughter – until the age of 26 – on your health insurance. … These are all incredibly important elements.

The law also talked about cost controls, cost sharing and moving towards a preventative healthcare model. This is an area we need to do more work on.

It is a problem when the Trump administration undermines the very essence of the law by eliminating the cost sharing obligations with insurance companies, which helped keep premiums and copays down.

The problem is that every time we want to improve the ACA, our [Republican] colleagues want to slay it. I have not heard a good idea to replace it yet. I hope that after these elections, we can come together and find some opportunities for cost controls and deliver service reforms.

Q: What do you feel is the best way to handle the country’s unauthorized immigration problem?

A: I have been at the forefront of comprehensive immigration reform ever since I came to the Senate. First, I worked with Senator Kennedy, then with the Gang of Eight, on legislation that actually passed the Senate overwhelmingly by 68 some-odd votes, and then languished in the House.

“I also oppose the president’s policies on slapping tariffs on some of our closest allies. We can have trade disputes, but calling Canadian imports into the US a national security threat is so wrong.” ­— Bob Menendez

This bill created strong border security. It thought about future [immigrant] flows into the US, and looked at private-sector [workforce] needs. It continued to preserve the essence of family reunification. And it found a pathway for undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and into the light; going through criminal background checks that, if they passed, would put them on a pathway to paying their taxes, learn English, and then ultimately get on a track to permanent residency. Five years after establishing permanent residency, they would then have a pathway to citizenship.

That legislation, scored by the Congressional Budget Office, was found to have dramatically reduced the national debt and unlocked enormous economic potential. We continue to fight for it and make it happen. It is very difficult with this administration’s views on immigration policy, which is, from my point of view, xenophobic.

We were part of a Gang of Six that most recently dealt with DACA and the Dreamers, who are exceptional young people whose only flag they ever pledged allegiance to was that of the US. The only national anthem they know is the Star-Spangled Banner. The only country they ever called home was the US. The CBO scores the consequences of losing DACA in the billion of dollars.

I am also not supporting a multi-billion-dollar border wall that the president says Mexico is going to pay for. At the end of the day, that’s not happening. … I haven’t seen a wall that the human spirit – whether it wants to go under, around or through it – hasn’t conquered.

Q: We are in the midst of an international trade war with China and other countries, many of which have been our allies. This is hurting the manufacturing sector. What can you do to lessen the impact of these tariffs, especially those that affect manufacturing?

A: I oppose the president’s tariff policies. However, China clearly has unfair trade barriers that are a disservice to American businesses. The question is, “How do you overcome these unfair trade practices?” We were on course to creating a global coalition, including Canada, the European Union, Japan, South Korea and the US, all going to the WTO, all making China the singular culprit. That is how I believe we could have succeeded.

Tariffs, at the end of the day, are a tactic. I am seriously concerned it will cost jobs and raise prices for consumers in our state and country. I have already heard from several New Jersey companies that cannot acquire the particular steel or aluminum they need in order to make medical devices.

We are working with those companies to try and get waivers, but so far, we have found the administration to be intransigent. We are on the verge of losing some 100 jobs at one New Jersey company if we can’t find a work-around.

I also oppose the president’s policies on slapping tariffs on some of our closest allies. We can have trade disputes, but calling Canadian imports into the US a national security threat is so wrong. We met with the Canadian Foreign Minister, who said “tariffs are about money … but what Canadians are overwrought by is that we have had the longest-lasting pacific border in the world, we have stood by your side in major conflicts, our sons and daughters have died with you in Afghanistan … for the US to call us a national security threat … we don’t understand that.”

So, the president’s tariff policy not only has economic consequences, but a bigger ripple effect in terms of national interests and global security.

Q: Overall, what do you feel is the best way to handle our nation’s trade imbalance?

A: At the end of the day, having tax policies as well as educational policies, particularly workforce-related issues that help domestic production, are incredibly important because then we get to export globally.

One of the things that I have done as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is promote greater commercial divisions at our embassies abroad. Germany, for example, uses the power of its government to promote German companies for the purchase of goods and services across the globe. We should use a much more robust commercial presence through our own embassies.

Q: What are your thoughts on how to best deliver affordable energy to US businesses?

A: I have been a big supporter of solar and wind energy tax credits. These renewable sources can create many jobs here in New Jersey. I think we can help drive tax policy to create renewable energy sources that will be cheaper and cleaner for businesses.

I am not for drilling off the coast of New Jersey for very little oil in comparison to the tremendous risk to the state’s tourism industry, its fishing industries and the incredible property values along the shore.

Natural gas is a cleaner, more efficient and an even more abundant fuel source. As we think about renewable energy sources and create the right tax policies so that they are priced right, natural gas will continue to be a bridge.

Q: What is your position on environmental protection and global warming? Should the US have backed out of the Paris Agreement? What are your thoughts on the EPA’s Affordable Energy Rule proposal that would relax carbon emission regulations on power plants?

A: When the US is absent in any major endeavor like global climate change, we do not set the standards, we do not drive the agenda, we miss the opportunity of being able to generate part of a new economy that can be successful for our state.

We are having climate change, and there are consequences to not facing the realities. As a matter of fact, I’ll take the most independent arbiter in this issue … the US Department of Defense. In its analysis, one of the most singular important national security challenges is global climate change.

Also, I don’t know how many more Super Storm Sandys we can take. It was the state’s worst natural disaster. Working with my colleagues, I got $60 billion for the region to help us recover, and helped New Jerseyans get $300 million after the government denied them the ability to get their lives back and get their businesses open again.

Regarding the EPA’s Affordable Energy Rule proposal, I don’t believe in going backwards on the critical elements of public health and safety as it relates to carbon emissions. We have a clear correlation between respiratory ailments in New Jersey and carbon emissions. So, it’s a false choice to suggest that we need to roll back carbon standards in order to have a more productive economy. Coal’s problem is natural gas. At the end of the day, natural gas is cheaper.

Q: What is your stance on marijuana legalization in New Jersey and the rest of the country?

A: I support decriminalization. Our jails are full of individuals who, just based on recreational use of marijuana, have been incarcerated. Also, I believe there is a disconnect between certain groups of New Jerseyans and other groups of New Jersyans who are similarly situated in what they did, but one gets incarcerated and the other doesn’t. That is fundamentally wrong. And for those who are incarcerated, we dramatically alter their profiles in terms of future employability.

Lastly, I have legislation to conduct some data collection about the effects of marijuana from a health context, a productivity context in terms of employment, and a safety context. As in any health question, I’d like to have the data to make the decision whether or not moving to legalization is in the best interest of the people of New Jersey.

Q: What are your thoughts about the impact of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 on New Jersey? If elected, would you leave the act untouched or would you pursue any changes?

A: I voted against it because, first of all, it is $2 trillion of unpaid tax cuts. It should have been structured in a way that helps the middle class so that people could also see their personal economy grow. When the middle class sees its personal incomes grow, you have a greater ripple effect on the overall economy. That ripple effect is not largely seen in the way this tax bill was structured.

I am also appalled at how the administration played politics with limiting the state and local property tax (SALT) deduction. That is a huge hit to New Jersey with a real consequence on community ratables. It will have consequences to property values and businesses as well. I applaud Governor Murphy for trying to find some accommodation, which has now been rejected by the IRS. I will not relent on the nomination of the IRS Commissioner and several other treasury employees until we get this turned around.

I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to totally restore the SALT deduction. Every Democrat voted for it and every Republican voted against it. After these elections, one of my key priorities is the full restoration of the SALT deduction. It is critical to the economic future of the state and its residents.

Then, one of the things I wanted to do in the tax reform is create a national infrastructure bank by repatriating corporate money from abroad and dedicating the taxes on those funds to an infrastructure bank so we could move the nation’s infrastructure forward.

Q: We all know that New Jersey is a donor state, getting 33 cents back for every dollar it sends to Washington. What can you do to help the state get its fair share of money back from Washington?

A: We took a big hit after the tax bill in terms of getting money back. And while New Jersey has the highest per capita income rate in the nation, it is always going to be a challenge to get dollar for dollar back. But we keep fighting. That’s why we have the billion dollars we are getting for transportation, the highest in our history, which I helped devise, and the half a billion for mass transit, which is the money we are building towards Gateway, and the money that we got to restore the state after Sandy ($60 billion). These funds don’t get worked into the formulas regarding our return on investment. I think it is important to include those as well.

Hopefully, if we could get a new majority, we could change the formula and get more money back to New Jersey. Until we do so, we are always going to have a challenge.

Q: What action would you take to ensure the state and region receives the transportation funding it needs to build the Gateway Tunnel and other infrastructure projects?

A: We received $541 million in the FY 2018 Omnibus bill despite the White House threat to veto anything in that. We did that through legislative maneuvering. A big chunk of that goes to Amtrak, which is dedicated to Gateway. That money can’t be touched. A part of it goes directly to transit agencies. That money can’t be touched as well. We got $16 million for the Portal Bridge. That is a down payment of a much larger amount that is due.

Here is the challenge: We need an administration that understands that this is a project of national significance … that 20 percent of GDP for the entire country is generated from this region … that a corridor from Boston to Washington is an economic lifeline not just for the region, but for the nation. This is something that I thought, when President Trump came to office, we would find common cause. He’s a New Yorker. I thought it was a no brainer.

However, we are making progress. We are doing it through legislative efforts. We are keeping the Gateway Tunnel project moving forward.

US Senator Robert Menendez: A Biography

This past March, before a crowd of Union City residents and supporters, US Senator Robert Menendez (D) formally announced his candidacy for a third term in the Senate. 

Menendez is a Union City native who rose from humble beginnings. His parents, Mario and Evangelina, emigrated from Cuba in 1953 to flee the corrupt government of Fulgencio Batista. The couple lived in New York City, where Menendez was born on January 1st, 1954. The family later moved across the Hudson River to Union City.

From 1974 to 1978, Menendez served on the Union City Board of Education, and from 1978 to 1982, he was the board’s chief financial officer. During this period, he graduated from St. Peter’s College in 1976, and graduated from Rutgers Law School in 1979.

He ran for and was elected mayor of Union City in 1986, serving until 1992. During this time, he served in the General Assembly and State Senate. Upon the retirement of Congressman Frank Guarini in 1992, Menendez won the 13th Congressional District seat in the US House of Representatives. 

In 2003, Menendez was elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He was also elected chair of the Credentials Committee of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. During the 107th Congress, he was chair of the Democratic Task Force on Education and the Democratic Task Force on Homeland Security. He was also a member of the House International Relations Committee.

He was sworn into the US Senate on January 18, 2006, taking over for – and being appointed by – Jon Corzine, who vacated his Senate seat to become New Jersey Governor. That following November, Menendez won a full term in the US Senate, running against State Senator Tom Kean, Jr.

Following the 2008 elections, Menendez was appointed head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, where he served from 2009 to 2011.

In November 2012, he was re-elected to a second term in the Senate, beating Republican Candidate State Senator Joe Kyrillos. 

Today, Menendez serves as the most senior Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He served as chairman of this committee during the 113th Congress. In the 115th Congress, he served as ranking member of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights and Global Women’s Issues. 

He is also a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. He also serves on the Financial Institutions and Consumer Protection Subcommittee and the Securities, Insurance, and Investment Subcommittee.

Menendez also serves on the Senate Finance Committee and the Subcommittee on Taxation and IRS Oversight and the Subcommittee on Health Care.

He tells New Jersey Business that he has consistently fought for New Jersey residents, pointing to the millions of dollars he helped the state receive: in Super Storm Sandy’s aftermath and for transportation infrastructure, among other accomplishments. 

As a US Senator, Menendez says he advocates for and supports residents of all 50 states. “When we face a challenge, whether it’s wildfires in the west, flooding in the Mississippi, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, or Super Storm Sandy in New Jersey, we are all in this together. As a US Senator, you must preserve a vision of what is good for the country. What is good for the country, at the end of the day, will largely be good for all of us,” he says.

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