Clouds fill the sky in front of the U.S. Capitol on October 7, 2013 in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty

New Jersey Republican rescues his party health care crusade

Six weeks ago, after House Republican leaders discovered they didn’t have the votes to pass the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s crusade had effectively run its course. Donald Trump said he was moving on to tax reform. 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.”

There was a brief flurry of activity before Congress’ spring break last month, when Republicans considered scrapping essential health benefits from the ACA to make far-right members happy, but once again, leaders found that their bill didn’t have the votes to pass. The larger push was effectively dead.

Then Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) came along. The New Jersey Republican, still eager to repeal “Obamacare,” started talking to Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who leads the far-right House Freedom Caucus, about an agreement that could generate enough GOP votes to pass. The solution was MacArthur agreeing to gut protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Politico reports today that MacArthur “might have singlehandedly saved the Obamacare repeal effort.” Whether that’s seen as a positive development or a negative one is a matter of perspective.
Moderates in recent days have cornered MacArthur, a leader of the centrist Tuesday Group, on the House floor or in hallways to air their gripes. “You are going to make us lose the majority,” one said, according to MacArthur.

MacArthur’s Tuesday Group colleagues have even suggested they might oust him as leader, as The Hill first reported. MacArthur has become so toxic within the group that he’s intentionally stayed out of final negotiations this week, as leaders try to cajole dozens of centrists to accept the deal he brokered with conservatives.
The Tuesday Group doesn’t receive as much attention as some of the higher-profile factions on Capitol Hill, but it’s ostensibly a group of House GOP centrists, who are led, at least for now, by Tom MacArthur – who’s “solution” to the Republicans’ health care mess isn’t exactly moderate.

The fallout from this is unpredictable. The GOP legislation is not at all popular, and being the guy responsible for saving a bill that may take health care benefits away from tens of millions of Americans isn’t the sort of thing an elected official wants on his or her resume.

The Tuesday Group may decide it’s time for new leadership, and MacArthur’s constituents – in a competitive New Jersey district – may not be especially impressed, either.

But it’s worth pointing out that if Tuesday Group members decided to kill their party’s regressive health care plan, it’s within their power to do so. If 23 GOP lawmakers vote against the bill today, it dies, and the Tuesday Group has more than enough members to make that happen.

They’re choosing not to.

Part of the problem here is actual Republican moderates in Congress are effectively an endangered species. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver published an analysis a couple of years ago that noted, “The most conservative Republicans in the House 25 or 30 years ago would be among the most liberal members now.”

In other words, if you were following national politics in the early 1990s, you could’ve found plenty of members of Congress widely seen as very conservative – but in 2017, those same lawmakers constitute the GOP’s “moderate” wing.

There’s been plenty of chatter in recent days about Republican centrists and their concerns, but this week’s developments are a reminder about what centrism means in contemporary GOP politics. It was a “moderate” like MacArthur who salvaged this legislation and it’s “moderates” like Tuesday Group members who are poised to help it pass.

New Jersey Republican rescues his party health care crusade