The Rodney Report: Budgetary Blues

  • Rodney’s healthcare: bad for constituents, bad for New Jersey, bad for the country; higher cost, higher taxes and worse care: What’s not to like?
  • Republicans’ Family Planning Problemcranky-rodney.jpg
  • Environmental Spending: A Budgetary Scavenger Hunt
  • From Russia With Lots (and Lots) of Love
  • Equine Slaughter


“Don’t tell me what you value,” Vice President Joe Biden famously said. “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value”  Rep. Frelinghuysen’s moment of truth to show what he values is here as Appropriations bills are coming out of their sub-committees establishing the nation’s budget and showing us what those with power value.


Rodney’s healthcare: bad for constituents, bad for New Jersey, bad for the country; higher cost, higher taxes and worse care: What’s not to like?

Frelinghuysen’s Appropriations Committee has been hard at work this week dismantling an essential part of the ACA. The Fiscal Year 2018 Financial Services Bill “advances many other conservative priorities by cutting spending, zeroing out programs and maintaining pro-life policies.”

Specifically, the bill instructs the IRS to stop collecting penalties for people who do not have healthcare coverage, in other words to stop enforcing “the mandate.” Whatever eventually happens with new Healthcare laws in congress, this provision inflames the uncertainty and destabilizes insurance markets with the risk or perhaps the aim of dismantling Obamacare without a single vote to repeal.

In other health care news, many of Frelinghuysen’s constituents received email from the congressman this week regarding our concerns about the proposed changes. “The reality of our nation’s healthcare system falls far short of the promises of the Affordable Care Act. I continue to hear from constituents who have lost their doctors, lost their insurance, and face skyrocketing premiums and deductibles for access to less care. The American Health Care Act, while imperfect, is a work in progress towards restoring flexibility to states and control to consumers that will drive down costs and promote effective care”

He also attached a ‘fact sheet’ about the AHCA, the House version of the health care bill. He continues to insist that the AHCA/BCRA will not affect people with pre-existing conditions and will not affect New Jersey’s Medicaid recipients.

But he is either just wrong, or deliberately wrong. Access to health care is not the same as affordability. The BCRA will divide the individual insurance market into two parts:

•Healthy people may opt for low cost “junk” plans that offer a low monthly premium but cover very few health procedures or prescriptions. Under the proposed Cruz amendment, such plans wouldn’t have to cover prescription drugs, chemotherapy, hospitalization, or pregnancy.

•Sick people will be forced into high risk pools with very expensive ACA compliant insurance. Health care professionals (hospitals, doctors, and insurance companies) are unified in saying such a division will destroy the individual market, and will also adversely affect the employer-based insurance market. Insurers called  the Cruz amendment "unworkable in any form" and add it will lead to "widespread terminations of coverage.”

The “junk” plans with huge deductibles and poor coverage will not actually save people money, especially if they get sick. And incredibly, despite Frelinghuysen’s assurances that people with pre-existing conditions WHO MAINTAIN coverage will not lose coverage or be charged more, “period,” the junk plans DO NOT COUNT towards that continual coverage. If you get sick and need to buy a better plan, you’ll be required to wait SIX MONTHS until you can be covered--and the insurance companies will be permitted to price the new plan at a rate so much higher it may well be unaffordable to you,  with sky-high deductibles to boot. This is a recipe for bankruptcy for people on the individual markets.

If possible, the proposed 35 percent cuts to Medicaid are even worse for RF’s constituents. Not only will seniors needing long term care, veterans, and children suffer from less access to health care services, but the cuts will also have major negative effects on state budgets. After education, Medicaid is the second largest budget item in most states. Need will not be reduced. So state and local governments will have to find ways to fill the gap themselves, forcing local governments to make horrific choices with losers on both sides.. In the end, everyone in the state will pay more, not less.

Once again jobs are lost and growth stifled in this budget since insurance cuts will mean healthcare job losses, further burdening state economies. Governors know this and most (including many Republicans) have been vocally opposed to the proposed changes. For example, this week Vice President Pence was called out for false statements about Ohio Medicaid coverage by Governor John Kasich, who stated that Medicare expansion in his state has led to much better and more affordable access to care.

Finally, the Senate bill now includes a provision that the House was shamed into dropping: Health care coverage offered to members of Congress is specifically exempt from the worst aspects of the BCRA. The Senate’s bill exempts the health insurance plans that cover Members of Congress and their families from a provision that allows insurance providers to offer plans that exclude coverage of the ACA’s essential health benefits.  Is the value revealed here self-preservation at any-cost?  

Excellent and detailed analysis of both the House and Senate proposal, Frelinghuysen’s positions, and impact on the people of New Jersey can be found here.

 In a final twist of the congressman's stated values, Frelinghuysen took a vote both against healthcare and uncharacteristically against the military when we voted with the minority on an amendment in the Defense budget bill that would have prevented transgender service members from receiving necessary medical treatment.  Here at least, the budget will reflect values NJ 11th for Change can support. No thanks to the congressman.


Republicans’ Family Planning Problem

Congressman Frelinghuysen has trumpeted his personal support of both reproductive choice and Planned Parenthood—he lauded the Morristown branch’s work for women’s health earlier in a telephone town hall earlier this year. But when it comes to protecting them from his perch at the head of the Appropriations Committee, his votes belie a different agenda.

The proposed budget for the Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS) that emerged from an Appropriations subcommittee markup process on Friday eliminates all funding—$300 million—for Title X, the federal family planning program that was enacted during the Nixon administration. Title X funds health-care providers serving mostly low-income Americans—in particular, those ineligible for Medicaid and the family planning services that program pays for. In its recap, the committee called Title X “controversial”; here in the real world, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the program simply gives poor people access to basic health care: contraceptives; pregnancy, HIV, and STD testing; and HPV vaccinations at some 4,000 public clinics. In New Jersey, according to Guttmacher, around 84,000 women in 2014 were served by Title X funded clinics--and over 13,000 teenagers. The Institute estimates that without these “safety net centers,” rates of unintended pregnancies in the state would rise 25 percent, and the teen pregnancy rate would go up by 28 percent.  

Here’s the thing: Title X provides only 10 percent of all moneys available for family planning—most of the rest comes from Medicaid. But Title X provides 25 percent of the federal funding received by Planned Parenthood. That makes it an irresistible target for Republicans.

Eliminating Title X will have real consequences not only for the low-income men and women who rely on its services, but also for public health as a whole.  “The unintended pregnancy rate is at a record low and the rate of teen pregnancy is at a 30-year low. If Title X is eliminated, we will reverse those public health gains,”  said Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. “Women will be more vulnerable to STDs and at a greater risk of unintended pregnancy and poor birth outcomes.”

The bill Frelinghuysen is sending to the House floor represents another in a series of departures from his support of any protections of reproductive rights. Although he boasted in that January telephone call of being a long-time supporter of Planned Parenthood, he has voted repeatedly since 2015 to strip the organization of its funding. In fact, he’s been stepping into the hard-right Republican line towards more restrictions on choice—moves that have reduced his approval rating by NARAL Pro-Choice America 100 percent in 2007 to zero percent last year.

Look at it this way, Congressman: You can only go up from here.

Environmental Spending: A Budgetary Scavenger Hunt

Assessing the federal budget’s impact on the environment is no one-stop shopping trip-- on the contrary, it requires a tour of several appropriations locations.

For instance, Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s e-newsletter referred to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, including several programs aimed at addressing ongoing flooding issues including here in New Jersey on the Passaic and Raritan River Basin, barrier Islands in our shore counties.

But continuing efforts to defund the Environmental Protection Agency spell trouble for cleanups at designated Superfund sites. On Wednesday, the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies subcommittee proposed a depressingly long list of EPA cuts. A possible one-third cut to EPA Superfund programs will “make a huge significant impact in New Jersey,” said Debbie Mans of NY/NJ Baykeeper. New Jersey makes the shameful boast of claiming the most Hazardous Waste sites on the federal priority list in the entire country.  Also revealed in the Energy bill is the elimination of the federal agency dedicated to Research and Development in clean energy while R&D for fossil fuels remains intact. This despite studies that show exponential job growth in the clean energy sector, with current employment 2.5 times that of traditional fuel.  Is Frelinghuysen's budget against clean energy AND jobs?

Over in the House subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science, their spending bill, includes 4.97 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a slight increase over Trump’s 4.8 billion request. The bad news: NOAA’s climate-research funding is down 19 percent, to $128 million. Compare that to $973 million for the National Weather Service’s forecasting operations and $848 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service and the values start to take shape.

Environmental concerns even crept into discussions of the National Defense Authorization Act, when the House voted 234-195 to retain a call for a Defense Department study to assess the impact of climate change upon military installations. Buried as it was in the massive defense-spending bill, this was an eye-popping instance of bipartisan acknowledgement that climate change represents a significant security concern.  

Forty-six Republican representatives joined all of their Democratic colleagues in urging the climate-change/defense study. Frelinghuysen, however, was not one of them.


From Russia With Lots (and Lots) of Love

Just when you think it can’t get any weirder, it does. A week that began with a New York Times report about a previously undisclosed meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., and a lawyer with close ties to the Russian government, unspooled to supply us with a series of explanations, excuses, and tweeted-out email exchanges between Don “I love it” Jr. and the music promoter who first proposed the get-together. By Saturday, we knew that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, had dangled damaging information about Hilary Clinton, that the meeting had also included White House adviser and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, and a small cadre of players with links to Russian government and intelligence agencies, and that one of those 8, Rinat Akhmetshin, according to documents uncovered by the Daily Beast, had masterminded a hacking and exposure of private documents from a mining company in 2013. Donald Jr.’s s story--about what the meeting concerned, who was in the room, what information he reaped--changed almost daily.

Trump, who declared his son “innocent,” claimed he never knew about the meeting, and only learned about it hours before the story broke. He too had to change his story, after reports that the Trump campaign paid fifty thousand dollars to Trump Jr.’s current attorney thirteen days before the emails were revealed. Coincidence? Providence? Collusion? Pick one.

House Democrats attempted to revoke Jared Kushner’s security clearance via amendments to an appropriations bill, but they were voted down by by Republicans--including committee chair Frelinghuysen--on a party line vote. Jared Kushner initially wrote zero on the form that is supposed to disclose previous contacts with agents of a foreign government and then had to amend that number to a hundred. In old news, he also wanted to establish a secure back channel link to Moscow from the White House just days after Trump’s election.

James Comey was fired on May 9 because President Trump wanted the Russia story to go away. That is just a little over two months ago, yet it feels like a lifetime. Back then, the question was whether the President had obstructed justice; now, we’ve moved on to what looks to be a clear case of collusion with Russia. Those closest to him are implicated. Congressman Frelinghuysen told constituents in February that he believes Putin is a bad actor and that sanctions against Russia should remain in place. But unlike fellow New Jersey GOP Congressman Leonard Lance, who said on MSNBC that he couldn’t rule out campaign collusion with the Russians, Frelinghuysen has been stone silent on the topic this week, forgoing both an opportunity and his responsibility to look out for the interests of his district, state, and nation.  It’s way past time for those who claim to be patriots to put country over party.


Equine Slaughter

By a mere two-vote margin, the Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that reintroduced the slaughter of horses in the US. Specifically, the committee voted against continuing a provision that defunded slaughtering plants, keeping them closed. For equine protection activists, this was a crucial missed opportunity.

The Humane Society of the United States sent Frelinghuysen, and us, a direct message on their blog, calling him out for a series of cruel anti-animal votes this congress in defiance of his constituents’ views:

“The defeat of the amendment to bar U.S.-based horse slaughter plants from operating is an ugly start for the House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. The newly anointed chairman represents a suburban district in New Jersey, and his constituents favor our position in droves. He defied their wishes on this vote, just as he defied their wishes earlier in the year in voting to overturn a Fish and Wildlife Service rule to stop the aerial tracking, landing, and shooting of grizzly bears, and to stop the shooting of wolves and other predators during their denning seasons on national wildlife refuges.

What kind of person wants to kill grizzly bears on wildlife refuges and slaughter American horses on U.S. soil?”

We encourage readers to seek the answer.