Frelinghuysen Appears To Break With Trump, Ryan In Virtual Town Hall

By on March 20, 2017

vintage-phoneRep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, who has represented Verona in Congress since a gerrymandering in 2012, held a telephone town hall Monday afternoon and appeared to be breaking with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan over the federal budget, healthcare and their efforts to defund environmental, arts and science programs.

Frelinghuysen answered 18 callers during the one-hour call, two of whom were from Verona (callers identified themselves by first name and town only). All but three of the callers expressed concern with the current administration’s agenda. The virtual town hall was supposed to have been held last Tuesday, but Frelinghuysen cancelled it because of Winter Storm Stella. Frelinghuysen did not hold any in-person town halls during Congress’ February recess and did not participate in those held by NJ11th For Change, a group that has been calling on the congressman to be more accountable to his constituents.

In his opening statement, Frelinghuysen said that he is “concerned that Obamacare is failing” but said he is not comfortable with the replacement plan in its present state. He indicated that changes are being made to the Republican replacement plan and said “I am anxious to see and study the final bill this Thursday.” Republicans have been pushing for a vote on the bill on March 23 because the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, was signed into law by President Barack Obama on March 23, 2010. Frelinghuysen, who has spelled out his opposition to Obamacare on his website, did not substantiate his assertion that it is failing; many commentators nationwide have disputed similar charges.

In a response later to a caller from Rockaway, Frelinghuysen said he has been working with a delegation from New Jersey to make sure that the Republican health plan “looks after more people on Medicaid” and that changes are made to the plan’s tax credit system. As introduced, the Republican plan’s tax credits give greater benefit to the well-off than to poorer Americans. (Obamacare did not offer financial assistance help high-income people buy coverage.) In answers to later questions, Frelinghuysen said a Republican health plan should maintain protection for pre-existing conditions and that he opposed lifetime caps on coverage. More than 1 million New Jersey residents could lose health coverage under the Republican plan, some 20,000 of whom live in the 11th congressional district that includes Verona. NJ11th for Change is holding a symposium on healthcare on Thursday at the Morris Museum in Morristown from 7 to 9 p.m.

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A caller from Rockaway asked why Frelinghuysen had indicated in his last virtual town hall that he was in favor of compelling the president to release his tax returns, but had still voted against an effort by Verona’s former Congressman, Bill Pascrell, to prompt their release. “He ought to release his taxes”, Frelinghuysen said of the president, but added that because of procedural rules, he would always support the ruling of the chair “regardless of the issue”. The chair’s position was against the measure proposed by Pascrell, a Democrat.

Frelinghuysen was less equivocal on proposed Trump budget cuts to arts organizations, saying that he did not support them. “This is money well spent in every congressional district” he said of existing arts funding.

Ronnie, a woman from Verona, asked Frelinghuysen what he would do to protect the Environmental Prptection Agency from cuts. The EPA is facing a 31% cut under the proposed budget, in addition to cuts to environmental programs in other agencies. Frelinghuysen asserted that he has been active in protecting New Jersey’s clean air and water in the past but said that “there are some EPA regulations that are making it hard for large and small businesses.” He did not offer specifics. The congressman later affirmed that he believes in climate change.

A caller from Woodland Park, which is also part of the sprawling 11th district, asked how Frelinghuysen and Congress will hold the president accountable for his wiretapping claims now that they have been debunked by FBI director James Comey in testimony on Monday. “The tweets are totally out of control,” Frelinghuysen said. “I’ve heard of no evidence, public or private that would back up his notion.” But when pressed for specifics on what Congress would do, the congressman said only that “Congress will examine the evidence.”

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A caller from Wayne asked Frelinghuysen about his budget priorities, noting that the proposed budget has a substantial increase in defense spending while cutting funding to the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Frelinghuysen said he does not support cutting the NIH but asserted that the U.S. needs to give additional support for the military, in light of activities by Russia and China. Frelinghuysen also offered that he is not a fan of Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), saying “he is not one of my favorite people.”

A caller from Pequannock asked why the Trump budget is cutting airport security to build the border wall. “I have some thoughts about the wall,” Frelinghuysen said. “First we need a plan. We need to know how he will spend the money. I’m not sure the wall is the answer.”

Frelinghuysen did not give dates on any future virtual town halls. Interested constituents can register for the call in the right-hand column of Frelinghuysen’s website.

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