- CB-Ohh No: The AHCA is Really that Awful
- Slashing the Safety Net
- Frelinghuysen Vs. DeVos
- When Constituents Come Calling
- Arms and Iran
The official start of summer also kicked off a season of budget hearings, in which NJ-11’s Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen as House Appropriations chairman should be expected to play a prominent part.
The dollars and cents issues include the long-awaited Congressional Budget Office scorecard on the AHCA, a troubling list of items on the Trump budget chopping block, and some welcome sparring between Frelinghuysen and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
CB-Ohhh No: The AHCA Really Is That Awful
During Frelinghuysen’s most recent telephone town hall, many NJ-11 constituents asked why the congressman did not insist on a CBO score before voting to pass the latest version of the American Health Care Act. He didn’t have a definitive answer at that point, but the AHCA scorecard released last week by the bipartisan Congressional Budget Office isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s brutal -- brutal enough to explain why the House leadership didn’t wait for it before pushing the bill to the floor for a vote.
According to the CBO, should the AHCA become law, 23 million more Americans will be uninsured over 10 years, 14 million in the next year alone, compared to the current law.
It gets worse from there.
Medicaid funding is projected to be cut by $834 billion. Older people and those with pre-existing conditions will face exceedingly high costs, and average premiums are expected to rise by 20%.
In New Jersey, nearly 470,000 people, an average of 27,500 in the 11th District, are expected to lose coverage over the next decade. In addition to Medicaid and individual market recipients, this number also includes nearly 95,000 expected to lose employer-sponsored insurance.
The CBO report estimates that one in six Americans will live in a state that will apply for a waiver to allow them to drop essential health benefits, such as hospitalization, prescription drugs, pediatric and maternity care, and protections for pre-existing conditions. For an individual age 64 making $26,500 per year, premiums would go from $1,700 under the ACA to between $13,600 and $16,100 under the AHCA. Maternity care, currently required as an essential health benefit, could cost approximately $1000 per month.
Frelinghuysen has yet to release a statement since the CBO’s findings were released last week. It is hard to envision a positive take on this grim report, not to mention an explanation of his decision to support AHCA in the first place.
Slashing the Safety Net
Frelinghuysen, who is head of the House Appropriations Committee, offered faint disapproval of Trump’s 2018 budget proposal, which includes whopping increases to defense and border security and massive cuts to social services, scientific research and the arts.
At least, we think Frelinghuysen disapproved. What he actually said, quite gingerly, is that he didn’t entirely “agree.” Here’s the direct quote from his weekly newsletter: “I, for one, do not agree with all of the steep reductions and program eliminations it contains.’’
Frelinghuysen wasn’t specific about which programs he meant or why he didn’t agree. Instead, he vaguely reassured us that his colleagues weren’t on board with the plan, either: “I do not believe many of the Administration’s cuts in the ‘social safety net’ and job training programs will survive in the House.’’
We hope the congressman will show more conviction when it’s time to use his power and influence to reject a budget that will hurt millions of the most vulnerable Americans and includes a .6 percent cut in Medicare, which Trump vowed not to decrease during his campaign.
Here’s what else is on the chopping block:
-- A 29 percent cut in food stamps, a.k.a. the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, which helps more than more than 40 million low-income Americans.
-- A 19 percent cut in the Children’s Health Insurance program, which helps six million low-income children.
-- A 17 percent cut in Medicaid, which which helps 77 million low-income patients, including those with disabilities.
-- A 13 cut percent cut in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides short-term financial aid for housing, utilities and non-medical expenses.
-- A 12 percent cut in Unemployment Insurance.
-- A 3 percent cut in Supplemental Security Income, which benefits 8 million elderly or disabled low-income Americans.
-- Nearly 2 percent cuts in Social Security Disability Insurance, which benefits more than 10 million low-income disabled Americans below retirement age.
Frelinghuysen vs. DeVos
We were heartened to see Frelinghuysen confront Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos during House Appropriations hearings on the federal education budget last week.
Trump’s budget proposal includes 13.5 percent cuts in education spending, with a $2.3 billion reduction to programs that shrink class sizes and train teachers. Other cuts would slash federal student loan programs, including Pell grants for low-income students. By contrast, school voucher programs would receive an infusion of $2.1 billion under the plan.
Frelinghuysen opened the hearings by recounting the many stories he hears from students who credit Pell grants and federal work study programs with helping them succeed. He also reminded DeVos that the next generation of educators need access to a “quality education” and “the necessary tools.’’
The congressman also spoke strongly about funding for students with disabilities, much of which is enacted under the 1975 Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Contending that the current (and proposed) funding levels of 15 percent are insufficient, Frelinghuysen pressed DeVos on whether she would recommend increasing funds. He noted that when IDEA was instituted, funding was supposed to be set at 40 percent. DeVos replied that this would cost $30 billion and pointed out that the proposed budget wasn’t a reduction from last year’s funding. But Frelinghuysen, who called a strong IDEA budget “essential,” replied, “At one point we were at 22 percent. I think we need to do better.’’
Again, we hope that along with asking questions and voicing concerns, our congressman will take action to defend America’s educational system against Trump’s budget plan.
When Constituents Come Calling
Discomfort with constituent contact was something of a theme last week for a few members of the state’s congressional delegation. Reps. Tom MacArthur (R, NJ3) and Chris Smith (R, NJ4) published interestingly similar opinion pieces lamenting the vocal disagreement at their recent town hall events.
Another expression of discomfort came at last week’s Fridays With Frelinghuysen, where staffers told participants that Morristown office-visit protocols, whereby visitors may go no further into the office than a lobby-area counter, reflect safety concerns in the wake of the 2011 attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (The Arizona congresswoman was severely wounded by a gunman who opened fire upon her during an appearance at a local supermarket, killing six people and injuring 13.)
That is quite a parallel. It is strange to equate a field office with a setting like the shopping center where Giffords was attacked. Also, members of both political parties have attended Fridays With Frelinghuysen in Morristown. Participants have been polite, orderly and prepared, as they’ve been when visiting Frelinghuysen’s other office locations in Wayne and Nutley.
This year has seen the emergence of an articulate and energized voting population, in the 11th and elsewhere in New Jersey. Surely that’s a positive development, not a fearful one.
If we’re concerned about violence, perhaps we should be troubled by the widespread reports of disruptions and intimidation in 2016 during Donald Trump’s rallies, which certainly seemed to bring out the worst behavior across the board, not helped by then-candidate Trump’s promise to “pay for the legal fees” for supporters who roughed up dissenters. (Some legal actions have in fact resulted from injuries incurred at Trump rallies, according to a report in Vanity Fair earlier this month.)
If we’re concerned about safety from the sort of attack that nearly killed Gifford, maybe we, and especially our congressman, should give more consideration to promoting sensible gun laws. In November 2011, as Giffords was still recovering, Frelinghuysen voted Yes on that year’s version of concealed-carry reciprocity, which would allow residents of states where concealed firearms are permitted to conceal-carry in states that forbid it. The 2011 bill didn’t get very far. But this year, another concealed-carry reciprocity bill is up for consideration. Frelinghuysen has not indicated what he plans to do on that one.
Security is always an important concern at public offices and public events, but concern should be placed where concern is due – and not upon informed and courteous constituents.
Arms and Iran
Frelinghuysen’s newsletter this week called a recent report on Iran’s ballistic missile program “still more evidence of what the previous Administration neglected in their much touted and praised Iranian deal!”
Other observers take a more sanguine view. The ballistic missile program is not in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which stopped short of outright prohibiting it (over then-President Obama’s objections). Reports issued by the EU’s chief negotiator have verified that Iran is in compliance, and to many observers, the deal has overall been a success at limiting Tehran’s ability to stockpile uranium and develop a nuclear bomb.
The accord has support in other quarters: a group of top-level scientists have written to the White House urging Trump to retain it. And as the New York Times reported: “Inside the [Trump] administration, there seems to be little appetite now to tear up the 2015 agreement, despite Mr. Trump’s criticism of it.” One major saber-rattler on Iran’s nuclear program within the current administration was now-former national security adviser Michael Flynn … for what that is worth.
-- By Liz Lynch, Jane J. Hunsecker, Liz Jarit, Lynn Halsey and Adam Tucker