After months of mulling his options, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed state legislation Thursday that would have in New Jersey, a fundamental step in implementing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act—known coloquially as "Obamacare"—in the state .
Christie had until Thursday, May 10, to make a decision on Assembly Bill #2171, passed by the state Legislature in March, or the bill would have become law, with or without his signature.
Christie said that because the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take on issue in March, just 10 days after the New Jersey Assembly passed the health exchange bill, the Affordable Care Act "might not survive [legal] scrutiny."
"Because it is not known whether the Affordable Care Act will remain, in whole or in part, it would be imprudent for New Jersey now to create an exchange before these critical threshold issues are decided with finality by the court," Christie said in a prepared statement.
He explained his veto by saying that the "better course of action" would be to "monitor the ever-changing landscape" surrounding the health care law and Supreme Court and "refrain from imposing its mandates upon our citizens until outstanding issues are settled, and the required course of action is clear."
'Burnishing his conservative credentials'
The veto was little more than Christie's effort to "burnish his conservative credentials at the expense of the folks who live in the state of New Jersey," said John Wisniewski (D-19), the Assembly deputy speaker who represents and the surrounding area, and who is a frequent critic of the governor.
Wisniewski said he was "disappointed" by Christie's veto. "He could have finessed it" by doing nothing and letting it automatically become law, the deputy assembly speaker said.
"It can be summed up in that [Christie has] once again done what's right for his political ambitions and what's wrong for the people of the state of New Jersey," Wisniewski said.
U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) expressed similar concerns in a statement Thursday afternoon.
"Gov. Christie is cutting off a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans who desperately need health insurance," Lautenberg said. "This is an example of the governor putting his tea-party driven national aspirations ahead of the health of residents of our own state. The insurance exchange would give small businesses and uninsured New Jersey residents access to affordable health care coverage, but the governor's continued drive to the far right of American politics has hurt our state once again."
The governor, who has repeatedly denied he has any intention of leaving New Jersey to run for the Republican presidential nomination, is a supporter of the presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney. Christie's name has been floated as being for Romney's ticket. The governor has said he's "comfortable" with the idea.
Federal health care takeover
Christie's conservative critic and former rival for the Republican nomination for governor, Steve Lonegan, said in a statement that he "applaud[ed] Gov. Christie for using his veto pen today to thwart the federal takeover of our health care in New Jersey."
Lonegan, chairman of the NJ chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group, called the health care mandate an "unprecedented federal assault on our liberties."
It's not over, said Wisniewski, who wants to marshal the votes to override Christie's veto. He said he has until the end of the legislative session in January 2014 to do just that.
"If were a straight partyline vote, the prospects are slim" of passing it, Wisniewski said. "But this is more than an issue that affects Democrats. It affects the constituents of Republicans throughout the state. It shouldn't have party boundaries attached to it.
"Republican legislators should vote to override [the veto] because it's what's right for the people of the state."
(Patch Regional Editor Tim Zatzariny Jr. contributed to this report.)