By Liz Haigney-Lynch
Rodney Redux is an occasional series that explores Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's career and family history as a member one of New Jersey's oldest political dynasties.
On one level, it was reality TV, pure and simple. “Ficus for Congress” was an installment of activist/documentarian Michael Moore’s TV series “The Awful Truth,” which ran 1999-2000 on the Bravo cable network. In his episode of June 21, 2000, Moore detailed his efforts to run a ficus plant in the NJ-11 primary against the unopposed incumbent, one Rodney Frelinghuysen.
But “Ficus for Congress” was also the kind of episodic political theater Moore perfected in documentaries such as "Roger & Me." This time, his target was the fog of complacency and apathy resulting from “safe” congressional districts, when elections, particularly primaries, become foregone conclusions and participation feels meaningless. With the potted ficus plant, Moore hit upon a perfect metaphor for the numbing effect of safe seats. A utilitarian, unremarkable décor placeholder – what could be better?
The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's Weekly Analysis of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's Words and Deeds.
- Pre-existing Conditions and High Risk Pools
- Medicaid Cuts in New Jersey, Ending Special Assistance in Schools
- Employer-based Plans: Lifetime Caps & Inequity
- Kick the Can
Rodney & The Omnibus Bill
- The Week According to Rodney
Rep. Frelinghuysen voted “yes” on the GOP’s American Health Care Act (AHCA) last week, a drastic about-face from his public statements on an earlier version of the bill — and a violation of the promise he made to NJ 11th members during an in-person meeting in his DC office, which was captured on video. In a statement released after the vote, Frelinghuysen assured the public that his previous concerns about the bill were assuaged by two amendments that, in fact, do nothing to reduce the proposed $880 billion Medicaid cuts and little to protect those with pre-existing conditions.
Pre-existing Conditions and High Risk Pools
In a misleading statement on his website, Frelinghuysen claims that under the new bill, insurance companies cannot deny anyone coverage based on pre-existing conditions or use health status to set premiums, “Unless your state asks for and receives a waiver—a condition of which is the state having other protections in place for those with pre-existing conditions..As long as you've been continuously covered, you can't be charged more money,'' Frelinghuysen explained.
This is not exactly the case. The AHCA, as amended, enables states that obtain a waiver to construct a second pool of enrollees who had a gap in coverage, separating the healthy from the sick, and creating high-risk pools. While the amendment offers these states an additional $8 billion in federal funds through 2022, raising the total amount available for high risk pools to $138 billion, the Center for American Progress estimates that these pools are woefully underfunded. They would actually need another $200 billion to properly fund coverage for high-risk patients.
More than half of all Americans of all ages and three quarters over the age of 45 have pre-existing conditions. While there is not a specific AHCA list of pre-existing conditions, insurers would have leeway to raise premiums for a multitude of illnesses, which was banned under Obamacare (the American Healthcare Act). Before the ACA, insurance companies could deny coverage or charge higher rates for anything listed as a pre-existing condition. The lists were voluminous, including relatively minor ailments like acne, acid reflux and eczema, along with many traumas, terminal diseases and mental disorders.
The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's response to Representative Frelinghuysen’s Weekly E-newsletter
- The Push to War
- Honored for 'Advocacy' of Latinos
- STEM Education and the 2018 Budget
AHCA Silence and Conference Calls
Controversy raged last week over the impending House vote on Trumpcare redux, but Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s newsletter avoided the subject entirely. Instead, he patted himself on the back for the successful passage of House Joint Resolution 99 to extend funding for federal agencies and programs until May 5. He also blamed Obama for Iranian nuclear proliferation and voiced his passionate support for STEM education — despite ominous signs he might approve budget cuts that would hobble scientific research and eliminate some of the very same STEM programs he applauds. In other news, Frelinghuysen proudly received an award from the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute, which seemed untroubled by his paltry advocacy record and votes against immigrants over the years.
The Push to War
In his Friday E-News item titled "Obama Administration Concessions = Iranian Belligerence,'' Frelinghuysen castigates Obama for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He pointed to a recent Politico story, which cited federal investigators and prosecutors who angry at the administration for underplaying the threat posed by prisoners released to Iran. They believe the White House undermined both years spent pursuing Iranian arms dealers and their National Counter-proliferation Initiative. However, two years on, the non-partisan Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation believes that “this good deal is significantly better than the bad alternatives.”
Several D.C. political sources are reporting today that Speaker Paul Ryan threatened Rep. Frelinghuysen with the loss of his powerful Appropriations Chairmanship unless he flips his opposition to the AHCA and instead supports it. If the Congressman truly represents his constituents, he must face down Ryan’s threat and continue to oppose Trumpcare, which would be disastrous for New Jersey and the country.
This amended AHCA bill, endorsed by the conservative Freedom Caucus Republicans, is even worse than the late March effort that Frelinghuysen called "unacceptable." By allowing states to acquire waivers on core provisions of the current law, it essentially removes the most crucial and popular protections.
By Liz Haigney-Lynch
An Earth Day message worth repeating: Never underestimate the power of voters’ voices, especially with a planet on the line.
At an Earth Week Environmental Defense Forum hosted in Little Falls by NJ 11th For Change last week, talk revolved around policy challenges, threatened funding cuts and the growing impact of climate change. Across the board, speakers emphasized the vital role of concerned citizens.
Moderated by astrophysicist Matthew Buckley of Rutgers University, founder of the NJ March for Science, the panel included:
• Assemblyman John McKeon (27th District)
• Lori Heiger, Steering Committee member of Coalition Against the Pilgrim Pipeline (CAPP), Founder of #Get2Work, Member, NJ 11th For Change Research Team
• Mark Brownstein, climate and energy program, Environmental Defense Fund
• NYU climate scientist Sonali McDermid
• Dan Hartinger, Parks and Public Lands Defense Campaign, Wilderness Society
• Jamie Pang, policy specialist, Center for Biological Diversity
• Julia Somers, executive director, New Jersey Highlands Coalition
The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's response to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's weekly newsletter.
- Tax Reform Talk
- Listening Tour
- A 100th Day Shutdown?
- March for Science
In Friday’s newsletter, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen bemoaned “our broken tax code,’’ calling it “desperately in need of reform.’’ But until our president releases his tax returns, this is not a conversation any representative of the American people should be willing to have. We support Democrats who say they’ll refuse any action on tax reform until Trump makes his records available.
The public needs to know how Trump earns his income and whether he’s paid his fair share in taxes. We need to know if he has paid taxes to any foreign governments or has foreign bank accounts. We also need to know how he might benefit from his proposed reforms.
Frelinghuysen has suggested more than once that President Trump should release his tax info. The New York Times last week even included him on the list of GOP politicos who are pro disclosure. But Frelinghuysen has voted against legislative attempts that would compel Trump to release his taxes, denouncing efforts as “political theater.’’
We hope that Frelinghuysen will do more than pay lip service to transparency.
The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's response to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen's weekly newsletter.
- Syrian Airstrikes
Turning Away Refugees
- A Plan for North Korea?
- Rodney and the War Machine
'While I am horrified by the deaths of so many innocent men, women, and children, I want to know how the president's strategic plans will change the course of this civil war. I cannot support any authorization unless and until my questions are answered fully. .... I don't think there is a great partisan divide. I think people just want to know what the president's plan is."
This was Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s 2013 response to President Obama’s request for congressional approval to use force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after sarin gas was dropped on a Damascus suburb. Frelinghuysen voted against approval, yet in his April 7th e-newsletter, he trumpeted his endorsement of Trump’s unsanctioned Syrian airstrike and condemned Obama-era policies toward North Korea.
Congressman Frelinghuysen commends the president for acting “decisively” on Syria. We agree that Assad’s brutal use of chemical weapons is a criminal act and that the ongoing civil war is a “humanitarian crisis,” but unlike Frelinghuysen, we are alarmed that the president acted without seeking Congressional approval. We urge Frelinghuysen to demand the same answers from Trump he sought from Obama four years ago: “What is this president’s Syria policy? What’s the end game here? Are we going to war here? Or is this attack a one-off? We deserve to have answers. What are the real goals here?’’ They were reasonable questions in 2013 and are more urgent now. Whether or not good people agree that the recent air strikes were justified, there is much concern that this president should ever be given unilateral power to make war.
By Adam Tucker
When asked what issues concern them the most, the members of NJ 11th for Change spoke clearly and loudly: for the sake of our democracy, the United States needs a fair and independent investigation on possible connections between the Russian government and the Trump Administration. It is clear to see why this issue topped the list.
It is a foregone conclusion that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government engaged in a long-term misinformation campaign to undermine confidence in the American electoral process and support a candidate they believed would better serve Russia’s interests. This much has been confirmed by every US intelligence agency. Make no mistake, this was an attack on our democracy and our nation by a hostile foreign government and we have every reason to think Russia will try again if the United States does not prevent it.
The Rodney Report is NJ 11th for Change's response to Representative Frelinghuysen’s Weekly E-newsletter.
The 3/31/17 edition
- Getting the Job Done?
- Travesty: House Intelligence Committee's Russia Investigations
Votes Against Science and EPA Protections
- Money Not Enough to Fight Hate
NJ 11th for Change is happy to hear Rep Frelinghuysen report in his E-News that Congress is “not paralyzed” despite the defeat of the AHCA and the “intrigue,” as he calls it, surrounding the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation (more on that later).
Congressional infighting and distractions risk failure to meet an April 28 deadline to approve FY ’17 funding bills, which would result in a crippling government shutdown. Among bills being considered are President Trump’s demand for additional defense funding, which includes $1.5 billion in funds to start construction of a southern border wall, and a demand from the House Freedom Caucus to cut Planned Parenthood Medicaid reimbursement.
Getting The Job Done?
After 46 days in session, Rep Frelinghuysen and the 115th Congress have passed a handful of bills, including legislation that Frelinghuysen describes as “reversing a whole series of onerous bureaucratic regulations.’’
The majority undo Obama-era protections that were designed to help the very working families Republicans had promised to champion. Here is a sampling of Frelinghuysen’s “yea” votes:
H J Res 43: Reversal of Title X family planning funds. Frelinghuysen has presented himself as pro-choice.This legislation grants funding only to providers who do not perform abortions. Every dollar invested in family planning ultimately saves between $4 and $7 in public funds, and Title X funding has provided services that have prevented millions of unintended pregnancies, treated thousands of patients with STDs and cervical cancer. Nevertheless, Rodney voted to allow states to withhold federal money from these necessary health clinics serving primarily rural women and women of color.
It was not a memorable vote for him, though. Listeners to Rodney’s Tele-conference call on 2/28 (see transcript here) will remember that Gideon from Essex Fells asked Frelinghuysen how he can claim to be pro-choice and support this bill. He was unable to provide an answer, other than to hedge that he didn’t “have the bill right here.” This bill passed the Senate on Thursday without amendment by a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence.