The Times, Trenton

Only Two Votes

The Times of Trenton — Friday, February 3, 2006


In the end, it was so close. The budget bill that cut $40 billion from the budget and will inflict hardship on those who need Medicaid, student loans, child support enforcement and other federal programs passed the House of Representatives by two votes: 216 to 214.

Thirteen Republicans voted with the Democrats to reject the bill, including, to his great credit, Rep. Chris Smith, R-Hamilton, the only New Jersey Republican to oppose it. Four of those 13 Republicans had voted for the measure in December but changed their votes to "no" Wednesday after becoming fully aware of its damaging effects. If only two other Republicans had joined them, this bad bill would have been sent back to committee for revision.

Unfortunately, the other House Republicans – including the remaining five from New Jersey – stood fast with the House leadership and enabled the bill to pass. Because the Senate had approved it earlier, with Vice President Cheney casting a tie-breaking vote, it now goes to President Bush for his promised signature.

Under its provisions, by 2010 13 million low-income people eligible for Medicaid will be faced with significantly higher costs for medical care and prescription drugs because of co-pays that states will be allowed to impose. Many of these folks will forgo the treatment and medicine they need because they will be unable to afford it. Elderly persons in need of nursing-home care will find Medicaid eligibility requirements more stringent. Student financial aid will suffer the biggest cut in history, forcing students and parents to pay higher interest rates for their loans and making college unaffordable for some of them. The Congressional Budget Office says 255,000 fewer children in working families will get child-care help in 2010 than received it in 2004. And hundreds of millions of dollars in child-support payments from deadbeat dads will be lost because of cuts in aid for the enforcement of court orders.

These are some of the cruel consequences of a bill that slashes entitlement spending but extends generous breaks to health insurers whose lobbyists worked with GOP leaders of Congress behind closed doors. One Republican who switched his vote from "yes" to "no," Rep. Jim Gerlach of Montgomery and Berks counties, Pa., said he was "very concerned about how the legislation reduces funding for mental health and education as well as important health-care areas that will ultimately target our nation's most needy citizens."

Five New Jersey Republicans didn't see it that way, and their failure to oppose this bill made the difference: Jim Saxton, R-Mount Holly; Frank LoBiondo, R-Ventnor; Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-Harding; Mike Ferguson, R-Warren, and Scott Garrett, R-Wantage. Some of the five are thought of as "moderate" members of the GOP. There was nothing moderate, or compassionate, about their votes on Wednesday.

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