Editor's note: This piece was written by Mike Proto.
New Jersey is on the cusp of taking its biggest leap towards planting the roots of Obamacare in the Garden State. Last March, the state Legislature passed a bill that would establish the law’s bureaucratic health care exchanges and now time is running out to stop it. If Gov. Christie does not veto the New Jersey Health Exchange Act by May 10, Obamacare will become entrenched in New Jersey as state law.
Since taking office in January of 2010, Governor Chris Christie has established a persona as a no-nonsense, straight talker, confronting liberal reporters, smacking down government union workers or openly engaging in wars of words with Democratic legislators. The bluster and bravado has made the governor a YouTube sensation and the right’s version of Barack Obama, a celebrity-style political “rock star”. Unfortunately, the governor tends to offer far more sizzle than steak and his credentials as a movement conservative are few.
Many conservatives in New Jersey have become jaded by the governor’s ambivalence towards a number of the issues dearest to them, most particularly with respect to the government takeover of our health care. In contrast to the governor’s very well-crafted image, his positions on Obamacare have been anything but fervent. Rather, they have been non-committal and laced with excuses and double-talk; nothing that could remotely be described as a principled stance against this extraordinary federal overreach and gross infringement on our liberties. To date, Gov. Christie has done nothing to stop the implementation of Obamacare in New Jersey. In fact, he has facilitated it at every turn.
The governor’s acquiescence to Obamacare was first signaled in 2010 by his initial refusal to join the multi-state lawsuit. While twenty-six other states, all led by Republican governors, became a party to the legal challenge in an historic effort to defend the rights of their citizens and to protect their state’s sovereignty, Gov. Christie insisted that his administration needed more time to review the matter. The governor’s contention was dubious at best given the lengthy and contentious national debate over Obamacare. But that wasn’t the governor’s only excuse.
Later that summer, in an appearance on ABC’s This Week with Jake Tapper, the governor indicated that he did not want to waste the state’s “limited resources” unless he was convinced the lawsuit could succeed. As it happens, the cost to New Jersey would have been minimal. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a true warrior in the battle to stop Obamacare, appeared at an AFP-sponsored event in the fall of 2010 and noted his state’s lawsuit would cost no more than $1000. As a lawyer and former prosecutor, surely Gov. Christie would have some sense of the cost for joining the lawsuit or he could just made a simple phone call to his then-Attorney General, liberal Democrat Paula Dow.
Of course, money ought not to be a consideration in the defense of liberty, a point the Attorney General eloquently delivered: “How people can think an honest defense of the Constitution is a waste of time or money is beyond me. What is there to spend those resources on that’s more important in government? Nothing. Nothing.”
Ironically, just one month after the health care law was enacted, the Christie administration submitted its claim to obtain $141 million in federal funds to set up Obamacare’s high-risk insurance pools. The pretext of needing to study the 2,000 page bill now violated AFP-New Jersey state director Steve Lonegan quipped: “Obviously the governor’s advisors have studied the president’s health insurance plan. They’re able to make decisions like this and now the question is why they’re not joining the lawsuit.”
Now, the governor has telling decision to make regarding the health care exchanges, one he cannot escape. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has already sent New Jersey $8.5 million to buy its compliance and the onus is squarely on Gov. Christie to stop it. His most recent proclamations on the subject, however, have left little reason for optimism. At a town hall this week, the governor stated his desire to wait until the Supreme Court handed down its decision before spending a dime on implementing Obamacare. But this is disingenuous on two fronts.
First, the state constitution demands that the governor act within 45 days of the measure passing the Legislature (the bill passed in mid-March). Secondly, even if the Supreme Court upholds the health care law, New Jersey is under no obligation to set up the exchanges. The burden would then fall on the HHS which has not been appropriated the funds by Congress.
Two years ago, Governor Christie gave an address on health care before a group of Obamacare’s most ardent liberal supporters, AARP-New Jersey. During the speech the governor channeled President Obama, proclaiming, “I want everybody to have health insurance. I want everyone to be able to have health care.” In just about every way, the governor has lived up to this promise. Here in New Jersey the governor has consistently increased funding for our state’s version of the public option, New Jersey FamilyCare. Eligibility for this program has been expanded to 350% of the federal poverty level -- equivalent to more than $80,000 for a family of four! Meanwhile, the governor has paid lip service to opposing Obamacare, instead offering endless equivocations along with passive submission.
This week Gov. Christie has a chance to prove conservatives and Obamacare supporters wrong. The health care exchange bill sitting on his desk is nothing less than a litmus test. It’s time Gov. Christie “directly, plainly and bluntly” let the people of New Jersey know where he stands on Obamacare. On May 10, we will have our answer.
Mike Proto is the Communications Director at Americans for Prosperity’s New Jersey chapter.