Maloney Navigates Tough Political Winds

Freshman Dem not easily predictable

By Kevin E. Foley

When Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted recently to roll back a provision of the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare) to allow people to keep their existing policies despite non-conformance with the requirements of the act, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a Democrat from the 19th district (including Beacon and Philipstown) joined them. Maloney was one of 39 Dems who felt compelled to rebuff President Obama in the midst of a pitched battle over the general failure of the federal government’s new online registration system for health insurance. It wasn’t the first time.

Sean Patrick Maloney, campaigning for office last year; photo by L.S. Armstrong

Sean Patrick Maloney, campaigning for office last year; photo by L.S. Armstrong

Asked about his vote during a telephonic town hall meeting this past week, Maloney in Washington, D.C., told a constituent caller: “I am not here to carry the president’s water, I am here to represent you.” Maloney also emphasized more than once during the call that he was not in Congress when the Affordable Care Act was approved. He also acknowledged that his recent vote had gotten him “grief from my friends on the left.”

Since it is unlikely the Democratically controlled Senate would take up the Republican measure, Maloney’s vote has a dose of political calculation in possibly blunting an issue an opponent could raise in the next election while not completely alienating his Democratic leadership.

Maloney’s task is to sail against a tide of negativity. And for him that means navigating upstream amidst the turbulent tides of the mid-Hudson River with its contending political winds blowing from the counties on both eastern and western shores.

After the 2010 census the boundary lines of the 19th Congressional District were redrawn creating a demographic slightly more favorable to a Democrat while retaining the basic seesaw electoral potential that has seen Democrat John Hall replace Republican Sue Kelly, and then Republican Nan Hayworth unseat Hall only to have Maloney turn out Hayworth all within the last decade.

Hayworth is reported to be considering a rerun of her 2012 contest no doubt anticipating the large amount of funds available in and outside her party for trying to pick off freshman representatives considered vulnerable in what are termed swing districts. Democrats are also raising huge amounts for the opposite reason.

Ten months into his first term Maloney is holding a constant schedule of in-person and phone-in town hall gatherings and other meetings to hear constituent concerns and tell voters what he is doing in their name. Listening in to the most recent call, which lasted almost 75 minutes, provided a window into the district’s political landscape, Maloney’s work ethic and the challenges confronting him.

At the outset of the call Maloney led with an incumbent’s strong suit about work he is doing on issues affecting local people, including pressing federal agencies on funds for transportation and infrastructure repair and improvements in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. In anticipation of stronger more frequent storms in the future Maloney recently sponsored successful legislation to improve funding for dam repair, pointing out that his district has many old dams in need of evaluation and upgrading.

Maloney also said he continues to press the federal Veteran’s Administration to improve the processing of vets disability claims which are backlogged, making claimants wait nearly a year for resolution.  He is pursuing legislation that would allow vets to use out-of-network doctors to speed their care.

With each caller Maloney shared an anecdote, usually about recently visiting his or her town or village. On one call he related how he was late for an event “because my kid missed the bus and I had to drive her to school.” Across more than a dozen questions he displayed a wide knowledge of issues and conditions across the four counties he represents. At every opportunity he underscored job creation and economic growth as principal concerns.

Maloney has moved his central constituent office to Newburgh in part to bolster that city’s need for revitalization. He described a number of projects including locating an FBI office in nearby New Windsor to focus on gang violence and a rezoning plan to encourage investment as examples of that effort.

On the Affordable Care Act Maloney shared a sardonic laugh with one caller over the $500 million already expended on the development of the troubled online system and expressed agreement over the poor performance and the need to reconsider where the federal government is on the issue. But when pressed to vote for rolling back Obamacare as House Republicans have repeatedly done, Maloney said no.

He stressed that the key elements of the plan – no refusal for pre-existing conditions, no rate discrimination for women, extending family coverage for children until age 26 – were all needed reforms and popular among Americans when explained. “I also think it is a good idea for young people to have to join the system,” he said.

Maloney said he was particularly pleased with how the New York state exchange was working and that rates in New York were generally lower because of the law. But he also said he was concerned about burdens on small businesses and that perhaps the tax credit for business was “too skimpy.” He also said he would delay penalties for not joining for a year.

“Republicans have to admit it’s not going away and Democrats have to admit it needs fixing. I am going to watch it like a hawk. It has to work for families in the Hudson Valley,” Maloney said.

Immigration reform

When asked by a caller about immigration reform, an issue fraught with partisan contention, Maloney led with opposition message points. “We have to secure the border, no amnesty, these people have to go to the back of the line, they have to learn English, they have to earn a long path to legal citizenship,” he said. But then he reminded listeners that both farmers and hi-tech entrepreneurs in the district complain to him about the availability of both low- and high-skilled labor for their businesses; so he believes that immigration reform can mean a boost to the region’s economy, creating more jobs and tax revenue for localities.

“We have to do it but it needs to be done better than the Affordable Care Act,” he declared.

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