Fallout from the contentious health care debate led one of the co-chairs of the moderate House Republican Tuesday Group to resign — on a Tuesday.
Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey can alternately be seen as a pragmatist who saved Republican hopes for health reform, or a Judas who betrayed his moderate Republican colleagues. He announced he was stepping down as one of three Tuesday Group co-chairs during their weekly meeting on Tuesday.
“I’ve led people before, I ran a company with thousands of employees. You can’t lead people where they don’t want to go,” MacArthur told reporters afterward.
Before MacArthur got involved, House Republicans were at a standstill over their American Health Care Act. The hardline Freedom Caucus wanted the party to repeal more Obamacare rules on insurers. Moderates wanted to protect some key Obamacare planks, such as the ban on charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing health conditions. Both sides refused to bend.
Tuesday Group member Rep. Chris Collins, at the time, urged his colleagues to “hang up” if the Freedom Caucus called. But MacArthur did the opposite, which didn’t go over well with some of his colleagues.
MacArthur worked with the Freedom Caucus to craft an amendment that gave hardliners much of what they wanted, allowing states to waive pre-existing condition protections and essential health benefits, which mandate basic services all insurance plans must cover.
The deal led to the House passing the AHCA, but made MacArthur a target of considerable public scorn back in his district. To some in the Tuesday Group, it was a betrayal. But MacArthur, who will remain a member of the group which numbers about 50 Republicans, said Tuesday he had no regrets and feels he did right by his party and his country. He also said the Tuesday Group was wrong to be so unwilling to negotiate.
“I don’t want to sacrifice who I am. I don’t want to be divisive within the group,” MacArthur said. “There are people who have bristled with me engaging with the Freedom Caucus. I’m going to do that again. That’s who I am. I’m going to work with everyone here.”
MacArthur’s description of events didn’t sit well with everyone. One Tuesday Group member argued that they were not being stubborn but rather fighting for the principle that people with pre-existing conditions should not be priced out of the insurance market.
The member said that at least 10 other Tuesday Group Republicans were insistent that MacArthur needed to step down as co-chair. “Some are pissed, but others are more disappointed,” said the member.
Others pegged the number of people calling for MacArthur to step down lower.
“There were a few people,” said New York Rep. Chris Collins. “I’d say the slate’s been wiped clean. What he did was he thought the best for him and the organization and I don’t disagree.”
Rep. Charlie Dent, another Tuesday Group co-chair, was a steadfast critic of the AHCA but he has repeatedly declined to denounce MacArthur for his role in passing the bill. “It is what it is,” Dent said of MacArthur’s resignation. “He’s still a valuable friend and a member of the group.”
While the weight of the health care debate has shifted to the Senate, the divisions within the party about how to handle the issue have not gone away. Some Senate Republicans are pushing for a slower, more lenient repeal of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and more robust tax credits. Others want a full and swift repeal of the Medicaid expansion and see tax credits as an unwelcome new welfare system.
And Senate Republicans are still figuring out what to do with pre-existing condition protections. The House bill requires states who use waivers to set up high-risk pools to cover sick people who are priced out of the market. Sen. John Thune, a member of Republican leadership, said his party is still figuring out whether to adopt that model, an altered model, or something totally different.
“We’ll see. We have a lot of members who have made statements and are very committed to having a solution in place for pre-existing conditions,” said Thune. “There are just a lot of different ideas about how to do it.”