If you are searching for solace after the brutal vote by the House on Thursday, let it be this: The battle lines are now clearly drawn for the 2018 mid-term elections.
Republicans, including two from New Jersey, just voted to throw roughly 24 million Americans out in the cold with no health coverage. With the savings, they are offering a fresh round of enormous tax breaks for the very rich. And for added insult, they voted to exempt themselves from any of the pain.
One of the two from New Jersey is Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, product of a line of American aristocrats extending to days of British rule, and a man whose arrogance knows no match.
He still won’t hold a town hall meeting on this, despite a flood of protests, all of them respectful and polite. Yesterday, many of them said they were blocked from leaving messages at his offices. If Sir Rodney survives the 2018 election, it is because of gerrymandering alone.
The other was Rep. Tom MacArthur, who played an even more important role. He is the man who resurrected this repeal from the dead by drafting a compromise designed to entice the hard-right Freedom Caucus. The changes made the bill even more brutal, putting those with pre-existing conditions at risk.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I confess to feeling a profound personal bond with MacArthur (R-3rd).
He started out as a hero in this fight, one of just nine Republicans to defy party leaders in January by voting against a plan to fast-track the Obamacare repeal. It was a big moment, so I hopped on a train to Washington to talk it over with him.
“No American should lack insurance,” he told me. “And I’m not talking about access – I’m talking about insurance.”
Then he got personal. He told me about losing his daughter at age 11, with her medical bills reaching $1 million, a sum he knows an uninsured family could never handle.
The interview stopped there, on a dime. I lost a son to cancer, and as anyone in this circle of hell knows, it is a brotherhood that goes far deeper than politics. MacArthur told his staffers to leave us, and we talked alone about the horror of it.
Later, he told me his mother died of cancer when he was four, and his father had no insurance. His dad worked three jobs for two decades trying to pay those bills, and still, needed help in the end.
This is a man, I thought, who would never be caught in the stale ideological debate about health care. Republican or not, I felt certain he would be no part of a plan to strip coverage from millions of families.
And then he voted for the first repeal.
And when that flopped, he did something worse: He saved it by making it more harsh, allowing states to opt out of the key protections for those with pre-existing conditions. He was the supposed moderate leader, reaching out to the right.
With this move, MacArthur loses any claim to being a moderate. But he has new status in the party, new friends on the right. He swears that’s not why he did this. But the puny concessions he won do little to mitigate the damage of this bill.
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Mark the moment. Because this is really the starting gun of the Bully Era. This isn’t just an insulting tweet, a money grab by Bully or his family, or even an executive order to keep dirty coal alive.
This is the real thing. People without insurance die before their time. They go bankrupt and delay care for their children. When their sickness is too much to ignore, a moment that comes for us all, they get care in hospital ERs, driving up costs for everyone.
They made this move in haste, before the Congressional Budget Office had time to even count the casualties. Ask yourself this: Why would they do that if they really believe the hogwash they were spewing yesterday?
Mark this, too, as the moment when Republicans sounded a retreat in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Because the money behind that fight comes mostly from Medicaid, which this bill eviscerates. In New Jersey, only 10 percent of those in treatment for heroin addiction have private insurance.
The CBO estimated that of the 24 million who would lose coverage under the first repeal, 14 million would come from the Medicaid cuts. MacArthur’s “compromise” leaves those cuts in place.
Note, too, that Gov. Chris Christie isn’t making a peep about that. His priority, it seems, is to offer tearful testimony, over and over, that makes him look like a hero in the fight. The hypocrisy is nauseating.
Republicans promised a new law that will subject Congress to the same changes they just imposed on those in the Obamacare markets. What else could they do once that stunt was exposed?
But MacArthur defended his role on Thursday, sending out an e-mail blast that mentioned his daughter’s passing, and his mother’s cancer. He seems to think it offers some inoculation against charges that he’s a heartless guy who has never known hardship.
To me, the mystery is how he, of all people, could pull this trigger. Jimmy Kimmel just had a terrifying scare with his newborn, and he drew the reasonable conclusion: Everyone should have health care. Period.
I can’t gin up any real hostility towards MacArthur. He is in my sad club, the worst one on earth. But if I lived in his district, he most definitely would not get my vote in 2018.