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LaLota’s First Weeks in Congress

Thu, 01/26/2023 - 05:24

Freshman Republican talks infrastructure, water quality, Santos debacle

Kaylie LaLota, Representative Nicholas LaLota’s wife, affixed a congressional pin to her husband’s lapel at his Washington, D.C., office earlier this month.
Office of U.S. Representative Nicholas LaLota

Representative Nicholas LaLota of the First Congressional District had quite a wild ride in his opening days as a freshman Republican in the 118th Congress. There was the epic and very public battle to name Kevin McCarthy as house speaker — and then there was George Santos, the newly elected representative from Nassau County whose résumé turned out to be a pack of lies and who now faces ongoing opprobrium from almost all quarters.

Mr. LaLota is one of the few G.O.P. politicians to call for Mr. Santos to resign — joining the Nassau County Republican Party and his Long Island congressional Republican colleagues Anthony D’Esposito and Andrew Garbarino, both of whom he has known for decades.

Mr. LaLota said in an interview with The Star that he only recently met Mr. Santos, whom Mr. McCarthy named to two subcommittees despite ongoing calls for his resignation over lies about his background and the questionable financing of his campaign last year.

Representatives LaLota, D’Esposito, and Garbarino are “going to work quite closely together” on issues including improving Long Island’s water quality, veterans’ services, and infrastructure improvements, Mr. LaLota said.

“We were always going to be a tight bloc, looking out for each other and our common interests . . . and the revelations of Santos’s totally embarrassing lies only expedited that process. He’s an absolute disgrace — to the House, to the G.O.P., to Democrats, to anyone who has ever wanted to run for office — and the sooner we’re able to move on from him, the sooner was can get to real work.”

That real work includes numerous areas of interest to East Enders. Mr. LaLota pledged, for instance, to work to lift the cap on the state and local tax (SALT) deduction implemented under the former president.

Under new SALT rules that went into effect in 2018, “the itemized deduction for state and local taxes paid [was] capped at $10,000 per return for single filers, head of household filers, and married taxpayers filing jointly,” according to the tax experts at H&R Block.

The cap was especially impactful on homeowners in high-tax “blue” states like New York and California and was widely seen as the former president enacting vengeance against those states for not supporting him in his 2016 presidential run.

Lifting the cap, said Mr. LaLota, is “a top priority of mine, and that’s why I’ve already joined the bipartisan SALT conference.” His ambition is to “make life more affordable for everyone on Long Island, by restoring the SALT and investing in infrastructure here. There will be opportunities to work across the aisle,” he said, “and I intend to capitalize on those.”

Mr. LaLota also addressed a perennial hot-button issue that emerges any time the Republican Party takes control of the House of Representatives: proposed cuts or the outright elimination of Social Security and Medicare “entitlements.”

Mr. LaLota, who campaigned on a promise to do his part to reintroduce concepts like civility to a highly divided House and country at large, said “it would be a colossal mistake to change and specifically to reduce the benefits that seniors are expecting for Social Security and Medicare.”

“That’s a line in the sand for many of us,” he added while noting a “compelling need to reform the U.S. budget — we’re rolling up our sleeves and getting into that” when it comes to discretionary and nonmandatory spending.

He said “both parties were complicit” over the past 20 years when it came to outsize spending and that it was “time the parties worked together” to get the budget under control.

Mr. LaLota also addressed a key industry in his district — a robust if wind-farm weary East End commercial fishing industry. Before he was a congressman, Mr. LaLota was at one time a staffer for Long Island State Senator Owen Johnson, whom he described as a “powerhouse” on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, as he denoted his own bona fides in this area of policymaking.

While Mr. LaLota said it was too soon for him to identify any specific legislation he may have in mind to support the regional commercial fishing industry, “rest assured,” he said, “the fishing industry should trust that I’ll be a strong advocate for them in Washington. I understand that I am representing a district surrounded by water on three sides.”

Mr. LaLota went on to highlight his concern for Long Island’s water quality as he observed that “there are many reasons in my opinion why Long Island’s water quality is in question — overdevelopment is one of the catalysts.”

He said the thorny issue of overdevelopment on a crowded island is “best left to local, town, and county” officials to determine which zoning codes are “appropriate for our environment. I don’t want to interrupt that wisdom, but I fully subscribe to the notion that a federal representative from New York — we’re there to bring the bacon home. We have the fifth worst return on investment in the country,” he added — for every dollar the state sends to Washington, it gets back 93 cents.

He pledged to “right that wrong and bring home more infrastructure dollars, which are related to improving our water quality.”

Like his Long Island Republican colleagues, Mr. LaLota ran on a tough-on-crime platform that was supercharged by G.O.P.-friendly regional media outlets that played a role in the Long Island congressional Republican sweep — and that provided a critical boost to the G.O.P. as it attained its precarious five-seat majority in the House.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she got the message from voters on crime after beating Lee Zeldin last November by a slimmer margin than anticipated and addressed criminal justice reform by highlighting the state’s inadequate mental health programs in her State of the State address earlier this month.

Mr. LaLota struck a more hard-line note on criminal justice issues when he said the number-one way to keep Long Island safe is to “secure the damn border, already,” as he noted an absence of a “streamlined immigration system,” and a porous border where illegal drugs and weapons — and undocumented persons — are flowing into the country. “Congress must hold the line,” he said.

The freshman congressman, a Navy veteran, also offered a moment of levity as he described the whirlwind of frustrations and distractions that greeted his first few weeks in office. “I said throughout the course of the campaign that the best job I ever had was as a young Naval officer,” said Mr. LaLota, pausing for effect. “I can say now that the best job I ever had is still as a young Naval officer!”

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