Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., speaks during the news conference at the Capitol with other members of the Heroin Task Force on combating heroin abuse on Thursday, April 21, 2016.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Congressman who rescued GOP health care plan loses re-election bid

In a year in which Democrats invested most of their energies into health care, the outcome of the race in New Jersey’s 3rd congressional district serves as a capstone of sorts for the 2018 cycle.

New Jersey officially has another Democrat headed to Washington. The Associated Press officially declared on Wednesday newcomer Democrat Andy Kim defeated incumbent Republican Tom MacArthur in the 3rd congressional district. […]

Kim, 36, who had never run for elected office before, was a civilian advisor to military leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq and national security aide in Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration.

Though there are still some uncounted provisional ballots in the district, Kim’s advantage reached a point yesterday that the GOP congressman called his Democratic challenger last night to concede.

And while this may not have been one of the nation’s most closely watched U.S. House races, for those who followed the health care debate closely, MacArthur’s fate was of special interest.

It’s easy to forget, but the initial Republican effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act died a fairly quick death in the spring of 2017. Many House Republicans balked at their own party’s plan; Donald Trump said he was moving on to tax reform; and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told reporters, “Obamacare is the law of the land… We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”

Then Tom MacArthur got to work.

As regular readers may recall, the New Jersey Republican took it upon himself to strike a deal with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the far-right House Freedom Caucus, on a regressive plan that gutted protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Politico soon after described MacArthur as the lawmaker who “singlehandedly saved the Obamacare repeal effort.” When the Republican bill passed the House, it was MacArthur who spoke at the (premature) White House celebration.

The fun didn’t last. The Senate rejected the plan MacArthur helped negotiate; the president denounced the legislation as “mean”; MacArthur found it necessary to step down as chairman of the Tuesday Group for GOP moderates; and the backlash from people in New Jersey was intense.

In effect, the Republican congressman gambled his career on a radical health care plan that would’ve hurt a lot of people.

We now know just how bad a bet that was.