Rep. Pascrell Talks Affordable Care Act and Syria

Healthcare in the crosshairs. The president-elect has promised to repeal Obamacare on day one. Though Donald Trump has not telegraphed what, if anything, might replace it. House Ways and Means Health Sub-committee member Rep. Bill Pascrell wrote Gov. Christie warning of what he called the disastrous impact the policy would have on New Jersey. Mary Alice Williams sat down with the Congressman to talk about that and more.

Williams: Thanks for being with us.

Pascrell: Mary Alice, great to see you.

Williams: What can Christie actually do?

Pascrell: Well he at least got it half right. He brought Medicaid expansion into New Jersey, which has provided a tremendous amount of help to over 550,000 people — people who would have not been insured and are now insured. So, over the next 10 years we can project that there will be 750,000, at least, affected by the fact that if we are going to shut down or block grant Medicaid, which would be a disaster for the state of New Jersey and most other states. In fact, you just had the governor of New Mexico who just said you can’t do this — she’s Republican.

Williams: Well, there were 32 states, including New Jersey and the District of Columbia, who expanded Medicare. Half of those states have Republican governors, so this is not a partisan issue.

Pascrell: That’s correct. Health care isn’t a partisan issue. The whole —

Williams: So what can Christie do? You wrote him a letter. Does he have influence with the Trump Administration?

Pascrell: I don’t know, I can’t answer that question. We are asking him to prevail upon Rep. [Kevin] McCarthy, the second in command to [Rep. Paul] Ryan, and the Republican congressmen who have to make this decision, particularly in the House Ways and Means Health. I serve on that committee and we are in for some good battles. They tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act 62 times. They were unsuccessful and now they have everything and you know it should be a breeze for them to do. But I suspect that it is not, and I believe that Medicaid — which is often forgotten — is going to suffer if it does. People have got to understand what the numbers are. In that, you would be surprised that many people within the middle class who fall on tough times, who have tough decisions to make on severe medical problems, they rely on Medicaid. We think that’s only for the poor.

Williams: So if the ACA is repealed on day one, is it reasonable to imagine that there is going to be a replacement for it soon enough to not put millions of people out?

Pascrell: They have no replacement. In 2012 they talked about a replacement and of course there was no transitional period whatsoever. People just dropped off the cliff. Now you’ve got the highest amount of insured Americans in proportion to the population. And what are we doing unless we have a substitute that will take care of those people? Not just in terms of preconditions because, Mary Alice, this is a major factor in the successes of the ACA. We need to change some things. Yeah, I recommend some changes, but the main successes are that people who had these catastrophic problems, need not have to worry. They can still be eligible to be insured. There’s many good things in the ACA. We can’t afford to give up and when the very people who voted for the president-elect understand that it could affect them, maybe they’ll come to their senses and talk to their own congressmen.

Williams: Let me change the subject on you and talk about Syria for a minute. The civil war there, and elsewhere, have cause what the United Nations calls the ‘biggest dislocation of people since World War II.’ Some 60,000 people have been displaced. Christie has said that we are not accepting refugees at the state level. Can the federal government do anything?

Pascrell: Mr. Christie has no say on what we can accept. That’s a federal decision. He said that in the very beginning. Governors do not make that decision on immigration. He’s wrong on the issue. He’s wrong on the law. I am a big supporter of well-vetted Syrians being able to come into this country. We have a vetting system — there’s 13 agencies in the federal government that do this. We need to be very careful about this.

Williams: Can we call them extreme vetting? I mean it’s very careful vetting, right?

Pascrell:  Well extreme vetting, call it whatever you want. There’s the vetting that I can accept. I was a member of the Homeland Security and I know what vetting is and how strong it could be. This is the strongest it could be. To block out these people simply because they are of a particular faith, to me, is ridiculous. I’m glad the faiths in the United States are standing against that.

Williams: Major faith groups here in the state of New Jersey, including Catholic charities, synagogues, are taking families in. Is there more that can be done to support the faith groups?

Pascrell:  Oh yeah, I think that President Obama, unless the president-elect shuts it down, is asking to bring more people in who are well-vetted. To protect this nation, the government has a right to know who is coming into this country and who is leaving this country. We’re all patriots here. We believe in the protecting of America, but we also believe that we help our brothers and sisters. These are 60,000 relocated in the Aleppo area, but there are millions that have been dislocated either out of the country or in Syria itself. Assad has a firm grip on this. This leads to other foreign policy decisions.

Williams: The president-elect has not sounded favorable about supporting this. Which can be done?

Pascrell: Well, he has to see the humanitarian side of it and hopefully he’ll change his mind. When you don’t know anything about it except what you hear on the table — that’s one thing. If you are interested in learning — that’s another thing — and hopefully it will change his mind. Does he have the possibility of changing his mind? Slim, but possible.

Williams: Thank you for being with us, Congressman Pascrell.

Pascrell: Oh, it’s an honor.