U.S. Representative Josh Gottheimer talks politics and policy at first RIPPAC Speaker Series conference of 2024

Josh Gottheimer speaks at Rowan University as a part of RIPPAC's Speaker Series. - Productions Editor / Sarah Shockey

On Thursday, Feb. 1, United States Representative Josh Gottheimer (D) spoke to members of the Rowan community in Room 104 of Business Hall for the first Institute For Public Policy & Citizenship (RIPPAC) Speaker Series of the spring semester. 

Representing New Jersey’s fifth Congressional District including parts of Bergen, Passaic, and Sussex Counties, Gottheimer discussed his role in Washington D.C. and as one of the co-chairs of the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus, a group equally divided by party focused on cooperation on key policy issues, and his overall goals and future “vision for New Jersey” and the United States as a whole.

After brief introductions by RIPPAC Director Benjamin Dworkin and junior political science major Andrew Rodriguez, Gottheimer began his speech by talking about growing up in Fort Lee, New Jersey, his wife, and two children, his past careers as a Microsoft executive and a speechwriter for the Bill Clinton administration, and the undying love he has for the New York Giants. 

As a resident of Essex County, an area under the jurisdiction of the fifth congressional district, Gottheimer also explained the moment he decided to run for office, a choice made in response to his former Representative Scott Garrett’s(R) views on LGBTQ+ rights.

“The person who represented my district where I was living [Garrett], came out and said that gay people shouldn’t be able to run for Congress, so you know, I had some strong feelings on that and decided to run against him,” said Gottheimer.

In the 2016 General Election, Gottheimer won New Jersey’s fifth congressional district 51.1% of the vote, compared to 46.7% for the seven-term tenure incumbent Garrett, flipping a historically conservative district to blue for the first time since 1933.

“We’ve [Democrats] actually won in a district that had been historically Republican,” said Gottheimer. “I was a Democrat in a district that for 80 years was Republican, so it was a tough fight, but we won.”

In regards to his work with the Problem Solvers Caucus, Gottheimer explained how the group of 32 Democrats and Republicans attend weekly meetings to discuss different bills and policies Congress has been debating and also about his involvement in passed legislation like expansions for child tax credits, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, and the CHIPS and Science ACT, which aimed to help revitalize the U.S. semiconductor industry.

When it comes to his own agenda, he says that he believes his job as a representative means fighting for not just the United States but for his state of New Jersey, including lowering the cost of living to prevent residents from leaving.

“My job is to make sure I fight for Jersey and make life a little bit more affordable, I want you [New Jersey residents] to stay here and not move somewhere else,” said Gottheimer.

The conference then shifted to a question and answer session in which Dworkin asked Gottheimer questions submitted by audience members and attendees in areas including taxes, student loans, and economic and social policy.

Starting off with the state of the economy, Gottheimer says that it is getting better in terms of unemployment being low and job growth and consumer confidence going up, but also can be improved in areas such as lowering interest rates.

“The good news is things are moving better and nobody would have predicted that, frankly, we would have turned the corner as fast as we have,” said Gottheimer. “Now, we gotta get interest rates down. I don’t think we’ll be where they were before, but I think the idea will be that you’re gonna have much lower rates, and I think that’s a good thing, too. The bottom line is I’m actually very optimistic about our economy and I think even six months from now, we’re going to see a much more positive perception.”

Gottheimer then talked about the state and local tax(SALT) deduction, which allows taxpayers to deduct up to $10,000 of property, sales, or income taxes paid to state and local governments when filing. 

The deductions used to be limitless but the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, signed into law by Former President Trump in 2017 added the $10,000 limit, a number that can be troublesome for some New Jersey residents, given the state’s property tax rates are highest in the nation

Since the cap is set to expire in 2025 and SALT would return to its old ways, Gottheimer says the issue is actively being reexamined in Congress, But, with many lower-income states who use the federal tax payments to invest in their economies, representatives from those states have pushed back on editing the cap.

“The median property tax in Bergen County where I live is $15,000. In Mississippi, it’s about $500 a year, so you see the huge differences, so for our people who live in our districts and in New Jersey, we invest more in our state and that’s really the whole debate and argument right there,” said Gottheimer.

For higher education expenses, Gottheimer says that it has become way too expensive. Calling for accountability on behalf of the schools and the loan lenders, he says that the best course of action to lower the cost of college is to better inform students about the consequences of them signing off on a loan, look at the operation costs of universities, relieve student loan debts for certain professions, and allow students to be able to renegotiate their loan interest rates.

“I did have a lot of parts in the system for accountability and transparency, where we can get the costs of colleges down and make sure we can continue to make them more affordable,” said Gottheimer.

He also went into detail about civility in Congressional discourse, saying the media only shows small outbursts that fragment the reality of their proceedings, immigration reform to strengthen the U.S.-Mexico borders and fix the migrant processing system, and distributes foreign aid for countries like Israel, Taiwan, and Ukraine. 

As for receptions by students, issues like lowering the cost of attending college were something that appealed to freshman Dillion McLean.

“I’m going into education so for me lowering the costs makes things easier because teaching isn’t a high-paying job, so I feel something to lower those costs would make it better for me,” said McLean.

However others, like freshman Claire Gosse, disagreed with his stance on funding pertaining to the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“I did disagree with providing aid to Israel since I feel like right now as they are committing a genocide against the Palestinians and the U.S. has been supporting them for so long,” said Gosse.

To conclude his conference with members of the Rowan student and faculty body, Gottheimer talked about why he continues to serve his country as a member of Congress and why he calls himself a Democrat, saying that everyone deserves to get ahead and that his job is to ensure that no one gets left behind.

“It comes down to one basic thing. I really believe in opportunities and I believe that we have to fight people and get their backs,” Gottheimer said. “I believe that that is fundamentally why I believe in the things I believe in because I love our country so much and see the opportunity and I want to make sure everyone gets a shot.”

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