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Observer-Tribune: Commentary: Frelinghuysen’s quiet effectiveness

By: Liz Parker

2/27/16

There was an interesting  column and subequent editorial in The Bergen Record a few months back outlining the quiet effectiveness of this area's longtime congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen.

The column by veteran political Capitol Hill reporter Herb Jackson detailed Frelinghuysen's effort, as chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, to add another $500 million  to the government's 2016 omnibus spending bill expanding intelligence-gathering around the world. It was money the Obama administration had not even sought and there was no hue and cry over adding it.

"It is a sign of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s power as chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee — power that could grow under the new House speaker, Paul Ryan — that he could direct where half a billion dollars should go without a major battle," Jackson wrote.

"It is also a sign of the low-key style of the 11-term congressman from Morris County — whose ancestors were in government before there was a United States — that his success on the surveillance measure got so little attention.

"As others in Congress race to microphones or elbow their way onto talk shows to challenge the administration’s military or foreign policy strategy, Frelinghuysen never issued a news release after increasing defense spending amid fears of domestic terror attacks and the spread of ISIS.

"A Vietnam veteran, Frelinghuysen said he decided after receiving briefings — some of which occurred in a secure room in the Capitol basement — that the United States was not getting enough intelligence from some of the places that needed to be watched."

" 'The focus is on the Middle East, so there are a lot of eyes on the battlefield,' he (Frelinghuysen) said in a recent interview. 'But there are other things that are happening around the world, in Northern Africa, things happen in the Southern Hemisphere and in Central and South America. We need to keep an eye on influences from the Middle East or, let’s say, indigenous groups, that might be involved in terrorism,' he said.''

The complete editorial can be found here at  http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-editorials/frelinghuysen-s-home-1.1484243  and the story is at http://www.northjersey.com/news/jackson-low-key-frelinghuysen-holds-big-budget-sway-1.1481206

Frelinghuysen's actions on the intelligence funding reminded us of January 2013, three months after New Jersey had been devastated by Superstorm Sandy. Frelinghuysen stood up in Congress as floor manager of a $50 billion federal Sandy aid bill that most members of the Republican House majority did not want to pass.

The fact that it was Frelinghuysen was no accident. The longtime congressman – whom Roll Call had described as a “shrewd, if low-key, deal-maker” — was one of the 11 so-called “Cardinals” who preside over the budget in the House, and has since risen to the powerful chairmanship of the defense appropriation subcommittee. It was Frelinghuysen who had taken the original $17 billion emergency relief bill and added $33 billion that would go not only to beach replenishment and infrastructure hardening projects, but also to provide grants to affected homeowners and small businesses who would not normally be covered.

Frelinghuysen made sure the bill went through as he had written it, personally arguing the case against a petty Republican amendment that would have stripped $1 million set aside for Legal Aid.

“At a time when people are in such desperate straits and misery, to deny the poorest of the poor recourse when fat people can be taking advantage of them,” Frelinghuysen said angrily, “ I am opposed.”

It was arguably Frelinghuysen’s finest hour in his four decades in county, state and federal office.

While we have not always agreed with some of Frelinghuysen's stances, particularly on gun control  and are dismayed by his recent 3 percent ranking by the League of Conservation Voters, as he balances his choices with the political  realities of his increasingly right-wing party, he has always been an important moderate voice in a stridently conservative Republican House caucus.

Frelinghuysen’s voice will be critical on a whole range of issues, notably the critical re-authorization of a federal transportation aid bill and the Gateway Rail Tunnel project that is so crucial to our region's economic growth.

Perhaps most importantly he is in line to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee which would make him one of the most powerful New Jerseyans ever to have served in Congress.

We would be fortunate to have a congressman of Frelinghuysen's influence and integrity in that position.

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