Meet the centrist trying to strike a deal on healthcare

Greg Nash

Just over 30 years ago, Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) was starting his career in the insurance industry and making $13,000 a year. Now, he’s trying to find a path out of the woods for Republicans seeking to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

MacArthur is only serving his second term in the House, and he became a co-chairman of the centrist Tuesday Group just three months ago.

{mosads}Yet he’s emerged as an influential voice in the party’s negotiations on healthcare reform even as the other two leaders of the Tuesday Group — Reps. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) — have kept lower profiles. 

Dent came out against the House GOP’s first repeal-and-replace measure, while Stefanik never made her stance on it clear. 

MacArthur, meanwhile, planned to vote for the bill, and he has been working to try to save it since leaders pulled it from the floor last month amid flagging support.

“I think you have to start with somebody who is supportive,” MacArthur told The Hill. “Somebody who’s not supportive of the bill is not going to try to improve it and make it better, necessarily.”

MacArthur opened talks with House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) after a lengthy meeting at the Capitol earlier this month. 

During that sit-down, the White House proposed letting states apply for waivers on ObamaCare’s minimum insurance coverage requirements and its rules preventing insurers from charging sick people higher premiums. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Vice President Pence and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus have all been kept apprised of those talks.

MacArthur, 56, stressed he’s trying to find a compromise “as an individual member of Congress” and not on behalf of the Tuesday Group.

While he’s been in touch with fellow Tuesday Group members over Congress’s two-week April recess, he acknowledged that the current compromise’s fate remains uncertain.

“Some moderates like the idea. Some have questions about it. Some are still [going to vote] no. That’s the reality of our group,” MacArthur said.

MacArthur is a relative newcomer to politics, having served on the Randolph, N.J., township council starting in 2011 and as its mayor in 2013, before running for the House a year later.

But he has a long background in the insurance industry. After beginning as an insurance adjuster, MacArthur eventually became the chairman and CEO of York Risk Services Group, which helps clients manage insurance claims.

An analysis by NJ Advance Media found that MacArthur is the wealthiest member of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, with assets worth at least $30.8 million.

“I spent 30 years in the insurance industry. This is not entirely foreign territory to me,” MacArthur said. 

MacArthur and Meadows are aiming to release the legislative text of their healthcare proposal this week, after lawmakers return from recess.

A summary that leaked last week included giving states the option to waive Obama-Care rules. To receive a waiver, though, a state would have to offer high-risk pool coverage.

The emerging proposal would keep in place several popular ObamaCare provisions, including the ban on insurers denying coverage outright to people with preexisting conditions and letting children stay on a parent’s plan until age 26.

Not a single centrist has publicly expressed support for the draft proposal since the details emerged last week.

Instead, Tuesday Group lawmakers have made clear that MacArthur doesn’t speak for them.

Within hours after Politico published the summary, Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) appeared on MSNBC and said the proposal “doesn’t actually address the concerns I had for the people that I represent.” When asked how the plan could get any support from moderates, Donovan replied, “I just don’t know.”

Fellow New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo tweeted the next day: “Still haven’t seen draft text. Reports don’t address my serious concerns for #SouthJersey. Still a NO.” 

Former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), who was a Tuesday Group member before leaving the House last year, said it’s hard for anyone to try to negotiate on behalf of the group.

While the roughly 30-member Freedom Caucus is mostly composed of lawmakers from reliably Republican districts, Tuesday Group members tend to represent swing districts. That makes it difficult for them to vote as a group.

“Tuesday Group members naturally align on a lot of issues ideologically. But the reality is, as majority makers, each one of them has had to navigate and understand the complexities of their constituencies more than any other members of the House,” Jolly said. 

That same dynamic applies to MacArthur. Former President Obama won his district, spanning Burlington and Ocean counties, twice, and President Trump also won it by 6 percentage points in 2016. The House Democratic campaign arm named MacArthur as one of its top targets this year, along with all but one of the GOP members of his state’s delegation: Reps. Leonard Lance, Rodney Frelinghuysen and LoBiondo. 

All but MacArthur came out against the House GOP’s initial healthcare plan. 

Since then, MacArthur has gotten pummeled with ads from all sides. The conservative Club for Growth and Save My Care, which opposes repealing ObamaCare, are both running ads criticizing him.

MacArthur has also faced protesters in his district angry over his role in the healthcare talks. He pushed back at a news conference in his district office over the recess.

“Is compromise so terrible that those who attempt it are falsely attacked with paid advertising that is filled with blatant lies and misrepresentations?” he said.

Tags Paul Ryan Rodney Frelinghuysen

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