Health-Care Reform Stumbles in South Jersey


Rep. John Adler, a freshman Democratic congressman representing the Southern New Jersey district where I live, is a wanted man because he is bucking the party line on health-care reform. Being a maverick may be the best move for him politically even if puts President Obama's top legislative priority in jeopardy.

The former state legislator is one of about 40 Democrats whose wavering stance on heath care reform has made them targets of special interest groups eager for them to chose a side. Liberal groups such as are urging their followers to bombard Adler's office with calls urging him to back health-care reform. Republicans are urging Adler, 50, to do the opposite. Even his rabbi is lobbying the Democrat, according to The New York Times.

"The pressure is on because this is a problem that needs to be solved," says Larry McNeely, health-care advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, in an interview. "Adler is in a state with some of the highest insurance costs in the country... We have got some absolutely incredible challenges."

The problem is figuring out what to do. The latest Rutgers-Eagleton Poll found out that only 17 percent of respondents believed that that the current system works "well enough." Nonetheless, two-thirds of respondents want Congress to follow the suggestions of Republicans and scrap the entire process and start over again. For Adler, who is facing a tough re-election, the benefits of opposing his party outweigh the risks.

For now, Adler said he plans to vote against legislation, saying that it does not do enough to control costs. He was the only member of the New Jersey Democratic delegation to vote against the House's health-care bill in November. He told the (Cherry Hill) Courier-Postthat the Senate bill under consideration is not much better. Most of his constituents are skeptical as well, the paper quotes him as saying.

"I would vote against the Senate bill," he told the paper's editors.

Should he follow through with his threat, Adler would be the only Democrat in New Jersey's congressional delegation to oppose the Obama administration's top legislative priority. He appears to be trying to broker a deal of some sort as the debate on health-care reform winds down.

"I have consistently expressed my concerns to Congressional leadership, and I will review the final bill when it is available," he says in a statement to DailyFinance. He would not elaborate further.

Health care is not a new issue for Adler. His late father John lost his drycleaning business after a series of heart attacks. Liberals were thrilled when he was elected because he had progressive views on the issue when he served in the New Jersey Senate for 17 years and campaigned on it when he sought higher office, according to Ray Castro, senior policy analyst with the liberal think tank New Jersey Policy Perspective. His view of Adler is much different today.

Holding Up the Bill?

"We were disappointed to learn that he might be helping hold up the bill," says Castro, who has discussed the issue with Adler and dismisses his concerns about cost control as groundless, in an interview. "He agrees with 95 percent of the bill. Some of the best ideas about cost control are in the legislation."

Adler, though, seems to reflecting the views of the region's business community. Both the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey back his stance on health-care reform.

Jeff Scheininger, the state chamber's point person on the issue, tells DailyFinance that experts he has consulted consider the proposals pending in Congress to be "terrible."

"Adler needs to do exactly what he has been doing," says Scheininger, whose Linden manufacturing firm is getting hit with a double-digit increase in premiums this year. "A long time ago this stopped being about health-care reform. It needs to be centered on health-care cost reduction. Debra DiLorenzo, the head of the South Jersey Chamber, is another Adler fan.

"John is a very very smart man; he has a good sense of things," she says in an interview. "If we don't get the pricing down, we are not helping anybody. I am very impressed with how strong he has been with all of the pressure from his party."

'Tremendous Independent Streak'

New Jersey is a solidly Democratic state, but the Third District, which includes middle-class suburbs such as Cherry Hill along with Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force Base, is not. Adler was the first Democrat to serve his district in Congress in more than a century. Republicans are eager to recapture Adler's seat and have enlisted former Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan as a candidate, a savvy move in a region that bleeds Eagle green.

Adler does not march in lockstep with his party. He was an early endorser of Barack Obama's presidential campaign at a time when many party insiders were backing Obama's then-rival Hillary Clinton. Ironically, Republicans and the media often point out his ties to the Democratic machine in South Jersey, a charge which his allies say is unfair.

"John has a tremendous independent streak which people don't know about," says Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, a Democrat who is a neighbor of Adler's, in an interview.

That will not be a problem much longer.

Originally published