Photo by Keene Vision Photography
By Gail Spector
Last month’s mid-term elections, weren’t just notable because of a political shift in the House of Representatives but because the new Congress will be younger and more diverse, Congressman Joseph Patrick Kennedy III told the audience at the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber’s annual Fall Business Breakfast on Nov. 13.
“Congress just got a whole lot younger and Congress just got a whole lot more diverse,” said the Newton father of two young children. “We had a record number of women elected to Congress. You’re looking at probably about 70 new members of Congress. The majority of those folks [from both parties] are a generation, if not younger, than the generation that they are replacing.
“The impact of that, I actually think, is extremely significant.”
The outgoing Congress is one of the oldest in U.S. history. But with 25 new members 40 years old or younger, the average age will drop by a decade.
Pointing to the older generation of political leaders, who are in their 70s or older, Kennedy said their impact and contact with the economic conditions of the day are a lot different from the younger members of Congress.
“Most of them did not come of age or have to deal with the impact of a $1.5 trillion student loan debt. Most of them didn’t have to deal with the fact that 20 percent of our economy is going to independent contractors in a gig economy.”
Citing the $18K average cost per child for early childcare in the Greater Boston area, Kennedy said that a family with two kids can’t afford a down payment on a house.
“That is a dynamic that, if you started your working career in the early 70s, you did not have to deal with in the way the new generation of Americans does have to deal with."
“The issues around student loans, around housing, around the affordability of college and your ability to access the housing market affects young Republicans just as it does young Democrats,” he said. “I expect there will be a discussion and potential path forward on issues like housing affordability, student loans and the cost of rearing a child."
Kennedy also said the Nov. 6 midterms –where Democrats picked up 39 seats in the House but lost two to Republicans in the Senate -- were good for health care.
“The health care debate is not over,” he said, “but a big page has turned."
“Legislative efforts to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act legislatively are going to be a thing of the past. There’s no way that a Democratic House is going to vote for such a thing,” he said, cautioning that the Trump administration will continue efforts through executive agencies and state attorneys general.
Kennedy, who was reelected to his fourth term representing Massachusetts’ Fourth Congressional District, said he’s interested to see whether any states “adjust their positions given that health care was the number one issue across the country, largely on the basis of preexisting conditions.”
Kennedy said if someone had offered him a deal two years ago that would approximate the 2018 Election Day results, he would have taken it.
“If you can remember two years ago, what our community felt like when Donald Trump shocked the world and became president; if you had told me two years later that Democrats were likely to pick up between roughly 37 and 40 seats in the House, win the popular vote by over seven points.
“If you had told me that three conservative states would approve Medicaid expansion by ballot initiative including Idaho and Nebraska; if you had told me that Washington State would pass one of the most stringent gun violence legislations anywhere in the country by ballot initiative;...if you had told me that of the four states that were critical to President Trump winning the election – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin – that all four of those states with Democratic senators up for reelection, all four of them would sweep through without really much of a challenge…”
“If you had told me all of that two years ago… and asked if that was a deal I’d take, I’d would have said yes in a heartbeat. Across the board, without question, it was a good night,” Kennedy said.
Election Day was a big day for Massachusetts as well, Kennedy said, emphasizing the expected House leadership roles for Jim McGovern as the chair of Ways and Means and Richard Neal, as chair of the Rules Committee
“That means that priorities that we actually believe in….are going to be reflected in the legislation that we pass and the negotiation stances that we take. Because of people like [Neal and McGovern]. It’s a big deal for Massachusetts and it’s a big deal for the values that many of us share. “
There’s no question that this White House and this administration are going to see more stringent accountability and oversight, Kennedy added.