Tomorrow’s state budget address will be followed by an outline of national spending priorities. President Trump’s told governors he wants to increase defense spending by $54 billion and make deep cuts in other federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. Its newly elected Secretary Scott Pruitt has vowed to roll back climate change regulations and cut the EPA budget by a billion dollars. New Jersey Representative Frank Pallone has called Pruitt “unsuitable” for the job. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently asked him what effect Pruitt’s actions would have on New Jersey.
Williams: Thank you for being with us, congressman. You’ve call the new EPA secretary, Scott Pruitt, unsuitable to head the EPA. He’s already signaled his intent to undo climate change regulations and cut the EPA budget by about $100 billion. What would the effect be on New Jersey?
Pallone: Well it basically means that there is less enforcement against polluters and there will probably be less money available for grants to upgrade various systems — safe drinking water, clean water, all the things that we rely on. For example, we have more Superfund and brownfield sites than any other state and we’ve gotten a number of grants over the years to clean up these sites. Those grants will start to dry up and if someone, you know, does take some sort of action that pollutes the ocean or pollutes a river they’re less likely to be found because the staff wouldn’t be there to go after them and enforce the law.
Williams: Could the state supplement clean-up funds if the feds cut the budget to clean up the toxic Superfund sites?
Pallone: In theory, but as you know, the state — which has to balance its budget every year and already has a shortfall based on tax revenues that are coming in — is not really in a position to make up money that is lost by the federal government.
Williams: Let’s talk about the repeal and the replacement, or repair, of the Affordable Care Act. Speaker Paul Ryan plans to introduce a plan. Is there anything in the outline of that, that you think could be beneficial?
Pallone: No and to be honest I don’t believe you’ll ever see a repeal and replace plan put forward or passed by the Republican leadership that —
Williams: Well they keep talking about doing it, why do you think that wouldn’t happen?
Pallone: Because they don’t have the votes. In other words, back in January, the first day that we came in, they did this budget reconciliation bill. The committees were supposed to report back to the full House by the end of January. That never happened. Today I heard that there’s no effort next week to move. So we’re into March and I just think the problem is the tea party right wingers, within the Republican Party in the House, they don’t really want a replacement. In other words, they don’t want to put up any money to help people pay for their health insurance or to pay for the Medicaid expansion. So, I think it’s virtually impossible for the Republicans to come up with a replacement. I mean, we’re going to continue to say that you can’t repeal it, unless you come up with a replacement that takes care of the people that are covered under Obamacare, but I don’t think they have the wherewithal to do anything like that.
Williams: Speaker Ryan’s guidelines would introduce tax credits to finance individual insurance purchases. It would also reduce federal payments to states that expanded Medicaid, like in New Jersey. How would that affect the poor?
Pallone: Well it’s not just the poor. Remember, Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act extended to not higher income levels, but people that were above the poverty line. And then people who were all the way up to $90,000 for an income for a family of four were able to get help paying for their premiums which were purchased privately on the exchange. Those are the things that are at risk. In other words, basically Ryan’s plan would eliminate the subsidies to help you pay for the insurance and it would eliminate the money that goes to the states to expand Medicaid. So that’s where you get an extra 20 million people or so that are covered by Obamacare that weren’t covered before. And if he cuts back or eliminates the funding for the states with Medicaid expansion and eliminates the subsidies and just says, “OK you can get a tax credit that’s very limited.” Most of the people won’t be able to afford the coverage and they just won’t get health coverage so that’s the problem.
Williams: You support Planned Parenthood, how would the health services they deliver be affected by the repeal if it’s repealed?
Pallone: Well, the Republicans are saying that as part of the repeal they would eliminate all funding for Planned Parenthood. You know, Planned Parenthood operates all these clinics around the country where they provide care for women. They separate the abortion, which is not paid for by any federal funds, from the family planning and the basic health care that’s provided to women at these clinics. If they don’t receive any funding a lot of the clinics will close and women won’t have access to basic health care.
Williams: Let me ask you about President Trump’s immigration enforcement plans. You’ve called on local law enforcement to resist those orders to assist in deporting unauthorized immigrants. What are the ramifications if police here don’t follow his orders?
Pallone: Well, understand it’s really two different things. What Trump is saying is that he’s going to have ICE, which is the immigration office, basically expand deportations now to almost anybody who’s here undocumented or even people that have green cards that may have gotten into trouble in some way. What he’s purposing to do now is to say, “OK, we want to enter into agreements with your local law, police departments and have them be the immigration officers.” That’s a voluntary program which the towns don’t have to do and most of the ones, if not all the ones that I’ve talk to, don’t want their local police to be deputized and to take on that role because they want them to fight crime. So what we’re say is, if the towns don’t want to do that, they don’t have to. What Trump’s trying to do, is use the local police to be the immigration officers and that’s where most of the mayors that I talk to say, “We don’t want that, that’s not part of their job and they don’t have the time to do it because they have to fight crime.”
Williams: OK thank you very much for being with us, Rep. Pallone.
Pallone: All right, thanks a lot.