Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday came out against a Republican Senate bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, telling reporters the health bill would harm New Jersey residents and take away billions of dollars in federal funding from the state.
Christie, a close ally of President Trump, publicly stated his opposition to the bill for the first time as GOP lawmakers make a last-ditch effort to scrap former President Obama’s health law. Republicans must pass the bill by Sept. 30 or the measure will lose expiring legislative protections from Democratic filibusters. Several GOP health bills have gone down in flames this year after failing to get enough support in Congress, despite Republicans promising for years to repeal the law known as Obamacare.
The latest GOP bill, authored by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would repeal major elements of the ACA, including the requirement that Americans must carry health care coverage or face penalties. It would also scale back the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare, as states would instead receive Medicaid funding through block grants.
That would take nearly $4 billion away from New Jersey, one of 31 states that expanded Medicaid under Obama’s law, Christie said Wednesday. While he said he supports the concept of block grants, Christie said the Senate bill would essentially take money away from the expansion states and give it to the states that didn’t expand Medicaid under Obamacare.
“I oppose Graham-Cassidy because it is too injurious to the people of New Jersey,” Christie said. “There are other ways that they could achieve what I think is an important thing to achieve, which is block granting, without tying themselves into knots trying to help the people who made a decision, I think politically made a decision for various reasons, not to expand.”
Unlike other Republican governors, Christie expanded Medicaid in New Jersey in 2013 under the ACA. Scaling back that expansion would likely blow a hole in the state’s $34.6 billion budget. The extra Medicaid money has freed up billions of dollars for other state program over the last four years.
“Even though I didn’t agree with the way (Obama) approached it philosophically, it was the law. And so I’m going to take advantage of that for the people of my state, and I did and do,” Christie said of expanding Medicaid. “So I’m certainly not going to support a bill now that takes nearly $4 billion from the people of this state.”
Republicans hold a slim 52 to 48 majority in the Senate. Democrats are united in opposition to the bill, so 50 GOP senators are needed to repeal Obamacare, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote to pass the bill. The Congressional Budget Office has not had enough time to make a full assessment of the legislation’s effect, but senators plan to move ahead without a CBO score if they have the votes, according to the Associated Press.
Before Wednesday, Christie had been silent on Republican efforts in Congress to repeal the ACA. A bi-partisan group of governors penned a letter in July to U.S. Senate leadership opposing an earlier Republican health bill that would have also gutted funding for Medicaid expansion states. Christie was not one of the 10 governors to sign the letter.
Christie said Wednesday that he’s made his opposition to the latest bill clear to “everybody who has asked me,” though this was the first time he made the comments publicly. He received praise Wednesday from New Jersey Policy Perspective, a left-leaning think tank, for opposing the Republican repeal effort.
“Just like he did in 2013 when he decided to expand Medicaid in New Jersey, Gov. Christie made the right call today when he publicly stated his opposition to the latest Congressional proposal to strip health care from millions of Americans, end the Medicaid expansion and gut the rest of the Medicaid program,” said NJPP Vice President Jon Whiten.