LONG BRANCH–Answering questions ranging from gun control to bipartisanship, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Monmouth, Middlesex) served as the host to a town hall meeting in his hometown.
Explaining Congress’ new spending bill to healthcare, Pallone began the town hall by informing locals about current events taking place in Congress.
More than 50 local residents, including Long Branch officials, Mayor Adam Schneider, Councilman John Pallone, Councilwoman Mary Jane Celli, Councilman Michael Sirianni, Councilwoman Joy Bastelli, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Board of Education member Avery Grant, attended the town hall meeting that was held on March 28 at the Long Branch High School auditorium.
Before adjourning for Easter Passover break, Pallone said Congress passed the Omnibus Spending Bill, which is a two-year agreement.
“[Congress] operates on a fiscal year that goes from October 1 to October 1 and so we have to adopt spending bills, either one or a series of them, before October 1 or the government shuts down,” Pallone said. “What happened is that it didn’t happen by October 1 of [last year] and there was a short-term extension of the government operations through a short term spending bill. We ended up having, I think, four or five short-term spending bills before we finally adopted this all-encompassing Omnibus Bill that goes until October 1.”
Pallone said it has been more and more difficult for Congress to adopt a spending bill to keep the government open, because of illogical differences between Republicans and Democrats.
“Basically the Republican leadership, they are the majority; [President Donald Trump] is a Republican; they wanted a major increase in military spending, in defense spending, the Democrats weren’t too hot on that,” Pallone said.
Pallone said Trump proposed a budget that had big increases in the military budget and slashed a lot of domestic spending for things like the Environmental Protection Agency, health and human services, and education.
“Within the Republican Party in Congress there is a sort of a extreme right-winged group that use to be called the Tea Party, now they call themselves the Freedom Caucus, there is about 40 or 50 of them,” Pallone said. “They generally won’t vote for any spending, I mean they just don’t like to spend any money…so because of that the Republican majority is not really a majority because they do not have enough votes to pass a lot of major things without the Democrats.”
Ultimately choosing to compromise with the Democrats, Pallone said, “The Democrats said we want parity; in other words, if you are going to increase the military budget by a certain percent you have to increase the domestic budget by the same amount, that is ultimately what happened.”
After explaining current legislative issues, such as net neutrality, infrastructure and education that are taking place in Capitol Hill, Pallone answered questions from locals.
In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, and recent national and local protests for better gun control, locals voiced their concerns about gun control.
“I believe that if you continue to have these massive rallies and petition drives, it’s going to have an impact,” Pallone said.
According to Pallone, the Omnibus Spending Bill talked about gun safety and addressed the prohibition of research on guns.
The Dickey Amendment that has been in place for years states no federal grant money can go to any institution for researching the impact of gun violence, according to Pallone.
“In the Omnibus Spending Bill, they put in some language that basically said that nothing in this bill would prevent the [Centers for Disease Control] or the [National Institutes of Health] from doing research on gun safety, but they did not appropriate any money. …So if you don’t put out any money, they’re not going to put out any grants. It is sort of the same thing, but they might challenge that and say this was a response to all the concern about gun safety,” Pallone said.
“We are starting to see a little bit of a crack, but it’s not enough. …I think that this movement is going to have an impact,” Pallone said.
West Long Branch Democratic Committee Vice Chairman Mark Engel said, “How much are you willing or do you feel you may need to compromise in order to protect the Dreamers?”
Pallone said he ended up voting against the Omnibus Spending Bill because it did not address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
When President Barack Obama was in office, he helped create the DACA bill addressing the citizenship status of “the Dreamers,” who are young people brought to the United States when they were very young, according to Pallone.
Although the DACA program did not give its recipients a pathway to citizenship, Pallone said, if they signed up, recipients were guaranteed they could stay in the United States, not get detained, be able to go to school, get a driver’s license and join the military.
“Personally, I am an advocate for comprehensive immigration reform,” Pallone said.
Pallone said Trump announced in September of 2017 he was going to repeal the DACA program effective March 5. By that date, the Republicans never posted a bill and the spending bill not did not include a plan to protect DACA recipients.
“The only reason why the Dreamers are still protected under DACA – and not all are – is because one of the circuit federal courts stepped in and issued a stay until they can hear the case,” Pallone said. “So the kids that are on DACA now are protected until the court makes a decision, but if that decision goes against them, then they go back into undocumented status and could be detained and deported, which I think is very unfortunate. We’ll see if Congress does anything about it.”
Highlands Resident Evan Grollman said he was born with a heart condition, which causes his heart rate to go up even when he is not exercising. He had four surgeries as a child, but luckily his condition was cured when he was 15 years old.
“What can I say to try and convince [my friends] that it is important for people to have healthcare? Why is it that so many people in Congress are obsessed with taking away my health insurance and the health insurance of millions of other citizens,” Grollman asked.
Pallone said he was one of the drafters for the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The idea was to have as many people as possible get health insurance, and before Trump came into office, 96 percent of americans had health insurance primarily because of Obamacare.
“[Trump] and the Republicans tried to repeal [Obamacare], they were unsuccessful because of [Republican Sen. John McCain] and a few other Republicans that stuck with us, but since that repeal failed, they have systemically tried to sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” Pallone said. “Now we estimate that over the next few years about three million that have health insurance will not buy their health insurance and they will go into the ranks of the uninsured.”
According to Pallone, what Obamacare tried to do was if a citizen was working and could afford to pay for health insurance the government would give them a subsidy to help him/her pay for their insurance.
“Part of the problem with Republicans is that there are some that ideologically believe that healthcare is not a federal issue. … I totally disagree with that. In other words, I think that the government has an obligation to provide and help provide health insurance as much as possible,” Pallone said.
For more information about visit www.pallone.house.gov.
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