Booker Blasts President’s Budget, Health Care Priorities

By David Cruz

Cory Booker is keeping up a frantic pace. Whether the junior senator from New Jersey is angling to be his party’s presidential nominee in 2020 or just carrying the flag for the loyal opposition, Booker has been pounding the pavement as one of the loudest Democratic voices against the president’s proposed budget.

Asked if he was volunteering to be the new soul of this party, Booker replied, “I’m volunteering just to be a yeoman, doing my work in the fields, so to speak, and, so, whether it’s going to east Texas, which I did, to visit immigration detention centers, one of these private prisons that I stand against, or whether it’s going around trying to support some of my senators who have tough re-election bids. It’s really important to our state that we address injustices; it’s really important that Donald Trump does not get a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.”

Today Booker’s first stop was in Montclair, where he sat for a roundtable discussion on the president’s proposed budget and its impact on New Jersey. The participants? Mostly board members of Planned Parenthood and supporters of the organization, which has become a lightning rod among Republicans and conservatives, who have called for it to be defunded.

“It’s actually not defunding Planned Parenthood, as if there are some kind of grants being given by the federal government to Planned Parenthood across our state,” he noted. “The reality is that Planned Parenthood gets reimbursed for certain services they provide through Medicaid.”

And that’s almost 50 percent of the clients who use Planned Parenthood, working class and poor residents, who take advantage of cancer screenings, HIV testing, contraception and, yes, abortion services, almost 8,000 in 2015. Booker says without Planned Parenthood, which the Republican health care plan zeroes out, these people would be less healthy: clogging ERs and having more unplanned pregnancies.

“Working at a safety net hospital, we really don’t have the capacity to do all of these screenings for everybody who needs them, so we really depend on Planned Parenthood as well as our FQHCs in order to do some of the screenings, and we collaborate with Planned Parenthood and they send us patients who need more specialty care, which is what I’m trained for,” said Damali Campbell, Planned Parenthood board member.

The American Health Care Act — it’s what they’re calling the replacement for the Affordable Care Act — has landed with a thud. The Congressional Budget Office said that, while it would reduce the federal deficit by $300 billion over the next decade, it would also mean 24 million more people uninsured. It’s given some Republicans — like Leonard Lance — pause. Lance said last week that he won’t vote for the current version of the bill.

“The American Health Care Act — by every metric we have available — makes health care in America worse,” said Ann Vardeman, program director for New Jersey Citizen Action. “It is cruel, it is small and it’s immoral, and ending reimbursements for Planned Parenthood is one aspect of that that’s going to be extremely detrimental.”

Booker called on New Jersey residents to keep the pressure up on Republicans, promising to do the same. Then he was off to another event, keeping up the breakneck pace required of a man some Democrats are increasingly coming to see as their next best hope in the era of Trump.