NJ Senate Democrats: New Addiction Programs Hinge on Trump’s Action on Obamacare

N.J. State Senators Steve Sweeney, Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo after Governor Chris Christie's annual state of the state address.

N.J. State Senators Steve Sweeney, Loretta Weinberg and Paul Sarlo after Governor Chris Christie’s annual state of the state address. JT Aregood for Observer

TRENTON — Following New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s state of the state address Tuesday, Democratic leaders in the State Senate said that much will depend on what action president-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled congress take on the Affordable Care Act. Christie had thrown down a 30-day gauntlet for Democrats to cooperate on new requirements for insurers to cover the first six months of recovery treatment for heroin and opiate addicts, among other statewide increases in funding and resources for those in recovery.

That focus on addiction was a pivot for the governor, who had emphasized his plan for standardizing school funding statewide and reforming the state’s beleaguered pension system throughout the last year. Senate President Steve Sweeney called on Christie to use his influence with Trump, his on-again off-again political ally, to help ensure that the state can meet his expectations on expanding care.

Sweeney was prompted by Senate Majority Loretta Weinberg, who pointed out that those state-level changes will depend on continued federal funding. Republicans in the U.S. Senate saw a first victory toward repealing the Affordable Care act and putting that funding into question last week in a 51-48 vote.

“A lot of what he talks about depends upon what happens in the administration in Washington with the Affordable Care Act, with Medicaid expansion, with Medicaid matching dollars.”

“That could be a major financial drain on the state,” Sweeney said of Christie’s proposals to enforce that mandate for insurers, increase state funding for recovery centers, and expand access for those without insurance. “But I also heard him say he’s got a phone number to talk to people down there. And we would expect him to make the phone-calls he needs so they don’t do something that’s going to really hurt a lot of people.

“I don’t want to waste a year of doing nothing,” he said of the 30-day challenge. “I still think he is the governor and there are areas where we should be willing to compromise and work with him. And we will fight him like we have for seven years if we don’t agree.”

“If we get this done in 30 days, we have 11 months to deal with school funding, transportation infrastructure, healthcare,” Weinberg said.

Asked whether Christie’s school funding plan—which would present a windfall for certain underfunded suburban districts but gut poor urban districts—would be making a reappearance, Sweeney said he will it expect it to take center stage in the governor’s budget address next month. Experts have called Christie’s plan politically impracticable given strong Democratic majorities in the State Senate and General Assembly.

Disclosure: Donald Trump is the father-in-law of Jared Kushner, the publisher of Observer Media.