RIO GRANDE –“Everyone (Democrats and Republicans) wants to do the (coronavirus relief) bill,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd), during an Oct. 7 meeting with Herald staff and Cape Issues members. “The difference is what was put in the bill.”
He noted there were several thingsin the bill that caused it not to go through, including $2,500 stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants. He said there are 17-year-old Americans who can’t get the stimulus, “but these folks were automatically going to get the stimulus, which was something we thought was inappropriate, especially considering all the cost and money that we’re already spending.”
The Green New Deal was also mixed in with the bill, according to Van Drew.
“These things have nothing to do with the COVID relief package at all, and they shouldn’t have been in there,” he said. “If you want to do those things, that’s fine. You can have that debate and have that argument. Some will vote for it and some will vote against it, but to sneak it in another bill, I think, is totally inappropriate and not the way to go about it.”
Another thingthat was put in the bill, according to Van Drew, was the desire of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)to allow federal prisoners to be released, “even if they were violent offenders, including murderers and rapists.”
The bill “may have made it through the House, but it was never going to make it in the Senate, or anywhere else, and it barely got there,” he said.
“That’s not a way to do government, regardless of whether you’re liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat. Let’s really face the issue at hand, and do that openly, and not squeeze other things that don’t belong in there,” he added.
The House adjourned for October recess, but “we’re on 24-hour call,” explained Van Drew. “We’ll see what that means.”
He said negotiations have broken off, but heis “hoping that we renegotiate and reengage because, I think, it’s really important to show the people that we can do this and that we should do it.”
President Donald Trump is “willing to do almost any one of these bills individually or together, just avoiding this other stuff that we don’t want, and I think that most people from Cape May County can understand that,” said Van Drew. “I think most people from Cape May County don’t want that, either, and that’s why I feel I’m representing my constituency when I did not support that.”
Infrastructure Bill Delayed
When asked about securing funding for infrastructureprojects, like the county’s bridge replacement and improvement plan and extending Route 55, Van Drew said one of the first things Trump spoke about, and Republicans, Democrats, Congress, and Senate seemed to agree to do,was to work on an infrastructure bill.
He noted it’s great for employment and safety, and the need is high, not just in Cape May County, but across the nation.
“The problem is we were so embedded in politics, in my opinion, that we just never got to it, and we can never have an agreement, and any bill that would even come along…would have other stuff in it that, again, everybody couldn’t agree to do,” he said.
“This was a very tough two years,” he added.
Referring to the impeachment of Trump, Van Drew said elections are for electing people. “Congress shouldn’t deem that they’re going to remove different elected officials because they don’t like them, or they feel that they should do it.”
He hopes after the Nov. 3 election “that we can all sit down and get into a good, solid infrastructure bill, and if we do… I’m going to advocate, obviously, to help Cape May County, and my whole district, to get the dollars they need for the different projects that they have.”
Route 55 is a difficult issue, said Van Drew.He noted the permitting alone would take years.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it,” he said, “but what it does mean is we’re going to need to have a clear path to do it. A clear path means that our people in the Legislature get enough votes, Sen. (Michael) Testa (R-1st) and his colleagues, to actually go forward and get money from the (state) Department of Transportation to go and get money for Route 55.”
The problem, he said, is the majority of those in the state Assembly and Senate are not supportive because of the environmental issue.
He added that he “would like to see us go into the design phase, and certainly we can talk to Sen. Testa and the assemblymen about thatand see if we can do a bill, fight for it, talk to the Department of Transportation.”
He promised to put his weight into it “because, obviously, being the congressman, they rely on Congress for the whole country. I’d certainly be glad to do that.”
Regarding environmentalists’ concerns about the project, Van Drew said, “I’m a believer in making things happen. I think you can have a good environment and a good economy. They are not mutually exclusive. There’s no reason they should be, so I think that design phase is something worth looking into.”
Future of Beach Replenishment Project Uncertain
Van Drew, who was instrumental in getting the U.S. Department of the Interior to change its position on the use of Hereford Inlet sand for federal beach replenishment projects, said he was glad to do it, but “you really shouldn’t need a congressman for this,” calling it “routine stuff.”
He said he had to “break my back” to get the beach replenishment done “because they couldn’t get it done, and it would’ve cost taxpayers a lot more money the other way, and this doesn’t cause any harm at all. We’re not hurting the environment.”
He noted that “every move you make to try to get something done, we now have people in and around government that block you.”
The goal is not to hurt the environment, he stressed. “You’ve got the most precious environment anywhere,” he said.
He said he would never allow offshore drilling or oil drilling, “but moving some sand? Come on. Let’s cut it out. Let’s get some things done. Let’s get the right thing done.”
When asked what he felt would happen during the upcoming replenishment project, in 2021, Van Drew said he didn’t know.
“I don’t know if the mayors are going to have to spend more of your precious tax dollars to get involved to fight the Sierra Club,” he said. The group sued to retain protection of the inlet sand.
Van Drew noted that when things like this happen, everybody has to spend more money. They (Sierra Club) send mailers that state ‘they’re going to hurt the environment,’ and it’s not always true, he said. “Sometimes, it’s an exaggeration, and I wish we would stop doing that.”
Van Drew said he believes in environment, citing a bill that he sponsored, and Trump signed, to fund open spaces and parks, in New Jersey.
“I believe in the environment when it makes sense, when we’re not doing stupid stuff and suing each other,” he added.
Economic Opportunity Lacking
People are leaving the cities, returning to where it’s safer, cleaner, and nicer, said Van Drew, when asked about the county’s lack of economic opportunities.
He cited working with the freeholder board on technology.
“I think it’s really important that we work in the technology sector to ensure that at that (Cape May County) Airport, we’re getting maximum use out of it, and they’re trying. It’s always been a real challenge… but I think there’s all types of new technologies out nowrelating to air, and there’s a relationship that exists between that airport and also the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and what’s going on there, for both counties, Atlantic and Cape May counties.”
Education is another factor in economic opportunity, according to Van Drew.
“Not every single human being should go to college,” he said.“They shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean that they’re not smart people. It just doesn’t mean that’s the way their future should be or the way that they get educated with us.”
He cited a shortage of plumbers, pipe fitters, welders, carpenters, engineers, and electricians, saying, “These jobs are going to be the jobs of the future to a great degree,and they’re going to pay well.”
He added,” Those are all jobs that are good jobs that pay well that can keep people here in the area and I think really have value.”
He also suggested expanding the marine and tourism industries, “especially if we had a state that sometimes was a little bit more compliant and a little bit more helpful with us.” He made the point that North Jersey doesn’t understand South Jersey.
Peter Jespersen, of Cape Issues, wondered if what’s being done at the Cape May County Airport could be done at the Woodbine Airport. “Can we bring in some of these entry level jobs to a call center or some kind of a facility that could be a deal struck in D.C…, he asked.
“That’s how government very often works,” replied Van Drew, “and that’s how, frankly, I helped keep the Coast Guard around.”
He explained there are people who are always talking about relocating the Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, noting he needed to be on top of it all the time.
“Some of that infrastructure I’m talking about is going to the Coast Guard because that brings a lot of people to our area,” he said.
Regarding infrastructure and economic opportunity, Van Drew emphasized the importance ofalignment at state and local levels of government, as a prerequisite to federal funding.
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