OPINION: The Bipartisan Case for Replacing Rep. Chris Smith
While party affiliation may color how we view every issue, residents of New Jersey’s fourth congressional district should all agree on one thing: There is now a bipartisan case for replacing Chris Smith. Other politics aside, Smith has proven he will not fight for his constituents when it matters most.
Smith has walked a fine line with the GOP and his president, voting against their signature legislative efforts in the Affordable Care Act repeal and tax overhaul. However, he made no effort to truly defend New Jersey’s residents. Rather, Smith tried to play the middle ground by mildly objecting so not to anger his constituents, while remaining silent so not to anger his party. The result was a near catastrophe for New Jersey’s most vulnerable residents, and a tax plan that unfairly targets our state and weakens the Affordable Care Act.
In the past, Smith irresponsibly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a replacement numerous times. Only when the real possibility of repeal presented itself did he turn away. He voted against the Republican tax overhaul citing “its negative impact on both New Jersey and my congressional district,” and stating that “the elimination – even modification – of the state and local tax deduction (SALT) will significantly increase taxes for many. That’s unacceptable…”
These votes were the right thing to do. Voting against the wishes of party leadership, on the two largest Republican campaign promises, must mean that Smith believed the consequences for his constituents were severe.
The problem, and what should unite New Jersey residents of both parties, is that Smith’s opposition ended there.
Aside from a press release/social media post, there was no public presence from Smith during the ACA repeal or tax debate. Shouldn’t Smith have been on the airwaves detailing his just concerns about the 500,000 New Jersey residents who would lose healthcare coverage if the ACA were repealed? How was he protecting those who rely on Medicaid? A Republican from a higher tax state is exactly the type of person news networks were looking to interview during the tax debate. Where was Smith on television advocating for his constituents whose taxable income would increase with changes to SALT? Additionally, the tax overhaul repealed the ACA’s individual mandate. This removes healthy people from insurance rolls and leaves behind those who cannot afford to be without it: seniors, the sick, the disabled, and children. As a result, costs increase, and these vulnerable populations suffer. Weren’t they worth fighting for?
Smith’s votes are not enough. If Smith were serious about protecting New Jersey residents, he would have done more to persuade other members of his party and the public. As the third longest serving member of the House, he should have the clout and confidence to lead.
A future with Smith’s half-hearted efforts will create more hardship for New Jersey families. A funding crisis over Social Security and Medicare was inevitable before the tax overhaul pulled $1.5 trillion out of the government’s coffers. Immediately after passing the bill, Republicans spoke about using the new $1.5 trillion hole as leverage to cut Social Security, Medicare, and the rest of the social safety net. Do not be lulled into a false sense of security by newfound savings from the tax overhaul; this will not make up for the future loss of benefits.
Anyone who plans on needing Social Security or Medicare, or values the social safety net because hard times can fall upon all of us, should be worried. The great fight over these programs is coming. Residents of the fourth district must consider if Smith’s meager efforts are what they want in that fight. Do they want someone, who despite his vote will stand meekly by while his party punishes New Jersey? Who won’t spend a penny of political capital to advocate for his constituents when it matters most?
It is clear that Smith will not expend great effort, even when he professes grave concerns. His behavior will not change, and his constituents will pay the price. At some point Social Security, Medicare, and healthcare costs will be critical to household budgets. And we all might need food or financial support if things go wrong. These realities are not partisan. Every time the stakes were high, Smith refused to fight for our needs in a visible, forceful, or meaningful way. Come November, we can find someone who will.