Leonard Lance doesn’t want to see New Jerseyans lose their health care, and he doesn’t want to destroy the Affordable Care Act just for the thrill of watching it die, like most leaders of his party.
The 7th District congressman insists he likes some of its provisions, but he finds Obamacare flawed and unaffordable, which may be why he has voted to repeal, defund, or dismantle portions of it dozens of times.
So call him conflicted. He is a moderate Republican who is routinely overwhelmed by the over-my-dead-body caucus that rules his party, but there’s no escaping the fact that at the moment of truth, he voted to pull the plug on Obamacare in March of 2017 without much regard for the consequences.
It came at a time when his party’s quest to provide universal health care proved to be as sincere as a presidential compliment: Lance’s own Energy and Commerce Committee held no open hearings, it rejected every Democratic amendment, and it refused to wait for a score from the Congressional Budget Office before it advanced the repeal bill in a 31-23 party line vote.
In the end, the people charged with reforming one-fifth of the American economy chose to treat the health of 24 million Americans as collateral damage – until the bill was ultimately torpedoed with a theatrical thumbs-down from John McCain.
So when Lance’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 midterms, Tom Malinowski, scored a clean knockdown early in last Friday’s News12 debate by pointing out these facts, it was damning that Lance dodged accountability for one of the worst votes of his career.
“Congressman, I’m sorry, you have to level with folks,” Malinowski suggested. “You used to campaign on this. You used to brag to your voters that ‘I vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act.'”
“Repeal and replace,” Lance corrected.
“Well, with what?” Malinowski countered. “And what did you think they were going to replace it with?. . . You voted for it in the Energy and Commerce Committee.”
“That’s not accurate,” Lance protested.
Actually, it’s accurate. And it’s still repugnant.
It is also true that once the final version of the bill reached the House floor in May, Lance voted against it – largely because he saw the so-called MacArthur Amendment was ludicrously inadequate protection for those with pre-existing conditions. Cheers for that.
But the bill had arrived in his committee as a massive tax cut for the rich – essentially stripping the poor of $600 billion in health subsidies – and it left the same way.
After 28 hours of markups, Lance’s committee still eliminated the individual mandate, removed the coverage penalty for employers, replaced the individual subsidy with a tax credit, and butchered Medicaid.
And all that earned the imprimatur of the Congressman from NJ-7: “It moves the process forward,” Lance reasoned at the time.
His campaign considers it ancient history. The Monmouth poll shows that health care is the No. 1 issue in the 7th (Hunterdon, Morris, Somerset, Union, Warren, and Essex), but Lance’s people claim that has nothing to do with Obamacare repeal since most constituents have employer-sponsored insurance. They believe that voters will ask “who is best situated to ensure that they keep the health care they love.”
Spoiler alert: Monmouth says voters choose Malinowski by a 31-21 margin on that one.
It underscores how Lance is an awkward fit for these political times. He is a throwback to a collegial age, a gentleman who is always inclined towards amicable compromise. Now the Republican majority regards moderation as a dirty word, and Lance is not only powerless to change that, he votes with Donald Trump 87 percent of the time.
This issue illustrates the problem: Lance’s vote helped move the Obamacare repeal forward. That’s a fact. And despite his reluctance and caveats, that repeal passed the House and came within a vote in the Senate.
This election is largely a Trump referendum. But it’s also about the GOP trying to rip health care away from the most vulnerable Americans without offering a plausible alternative. Voters are alert to the possibility that another Republican majority will try to repeal the ACA again. This time, they know McCain’s thumb cannot stop it.