Posted with permission from NJ.com
Protestors congregate outside prior to the start of the town hall. Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.) has a town hall meeting at the John F. Kennedy Center. Wednesday May 10, 2017. Willingboro, NJ, USA (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

If you're looking for someone to blame for this monstrous Republican tax plan, consider Rep. Tom MacArthur, the rich and ambitious Congressman from South Jersey who is fast climbing the ladder within the GOP camp.

MacArthur (R-3rd) has made peace with the Trump storm by surrendering to it.

He helped engineer the House repeal of Obamacare. And he was the only Republican to support this tax overhaul, one designed to drain wealth from blue states to red ones, a bill so bad that even the state's Chamber of Commerce stands opposed.

New Jersey's total tax bill will go up under this bill, not down. Nationally, it is a brazen money grab by the rich that will soon force big automatic cuts to programs like Medicare.

Even the Republican score-keepers in Congress say it will explode the deficit, and increase taxes on most families earning $75,000 or less.

But it would have been worse, MacArthur says, if he had not stayed with the team. He was among those who fought to preserve a $10,000 portion of the property tax deduction, which he says will save New Jersey families $3.64 billion a year.

The other 11 members of our delegation, he says, blew it by walking away.

"When they voted 'no' they took themselves out of the negotiation," he says. "I'm getting the crap beat out of me, but by being willing to stay at the table, I saved the people of New Jersey $3.64 billion a year."

Granted, politician must compromise to be effective, and it can get ugly. Abe Lincoln didn't free all the slaves in 1863; only those in states that joined the rebellion. He let four border states keep their slaves for a few more years, and was skewered for it by abolitionists. But his priority was to win the war.

MacArthur is presenting himself as a man of courage, in that tradition.

Here's the problem: Lincoln's compromises gave him a huge victory when those border states helped win the war and free all the slaves, forever. MacArthur only limited the damage of this ruinous bill, and in the process, he helped ensure its passage.

If this bill is so good for New Jersey, I asked him, why did all the other Republicans vote against it in the end?

"I have a lot of thoughts on that, and I'm not going to share them with you," he said.

Then he shared them: "I will say, generally, I think a lot of people took a political vote. I get why it's not an easy vote."

In other words, all the others were looking after their political hides, while MacArthur was acting on principle. "I legislate out of severe conviction," he says.

Ok, forgive my skepticism, but I have another theory. MacArthur is a sophomore in Congress who was duped by the party's red-state leadership. They flattered him into doing their dirty work.

Play ball, they told him, and we'll invite you to our big meetings, and throw you a scrap now and then.

Every Wednesday afternoon, MacArthur is invited to join Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) for lunch in his outer office to discuss political strategy with a small group of fellow Republicans.

That's heady stuff in Washington. MacArthur has been in Congress for less than three years, a time when other members are still asking for permission to use the capitol bathroom. He has the Speaker's ear, every week.

"I think I'm respected here," he said, after casting a floor vote on Thursday.

I went through this bill with MacArthur for over an hour, point by point.

He had his objections, he said, which he swallowed. He doesn't like the repeal of the inheritance tax, even though he stands to personally profit from it, since his net worth at the last report was $53 million. He says he would like to save the entire property tax deduction, and the income-tax deduction, too.

"I have to vote on a bill that has some things I like and some things I don't," he said. "Legislating is different than writing a column."

He was evasive on other points. I asked how he felt about Trump hiding his own tax returns, while credible estimates put his personal benefit at more than $1 billion. "I don't look at it through that lens," he said. "I have not focused on that."

He agreed that rushing this bill without hearings was wrong. "I'm not going to justify it," he said. "I don't have control over the process."

Here's the most disturbing part: He rejected all evidence challenging the core economic arguments behind this bill, with the stubbornness of a climate-denier.

The University of Chicago recently surveyed 38 leading economists, left and right, about the impact of this bill. It will explode the deficit, all 38 said. And it will not spark the boom that Team Trump predicts. That echoes the findings of Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper of the Republican Congress, and Republicans like Bruce Bartlett, a senior advisor to Ronald Reagan.

MacArthur's dismissal was beyond glib, considering the stakes.

"Oh, you can find ready-made economists who agree with whatever position you take on this," he said.

I asked him about fellow Republicans who have said their wealthy donors are demanding this change. "That's terribly cynical," MacArthur said. "I'm not going to tell you money doesn't have influence in Washington. It does. But that's not the way I approach my actions here."

MacArthur is a mystery to me. I met him after he voted to block an early repeal of Obamacare, saying every American should have insurance. Several weeks later, he rescued the effort by negotiating changes with the hard-right that made it even harsher. Go figure.

He is often touted as the Republican who could win a statewide race in New Jersey, for governor or U.S. Senate. But I can't imagine that after his bromance with Trump.

"Even assuming he survives the next election, he will be finished as a statewide prospect," says Julie Roginsky, a Democrat who has helped run several statewide races.

MacArthur himself is keeping that flame burning, but even he realizes it'll take time for Blue Jersey to forgive him.

"At the moment, with all the noise, it might hurt," he said. "This is a churned up political environment. I've never seen so much casting aspersions on peoples' motives. But I'm a very strong believer that over time people see you just like you are."

Good luck with that. If he's wrong about this bill, and everyone else in New Jersey is right, we are in for some tough times in this state. MacArthur may climb the ladder in Republican Washington, but he's bound to pay a penalty at home, one he will richly deserve.

More: Tom Moran columns 

Tom Moran may be reached at tmoran@starledger.com or call (973) 836-4909. Follow him on Twitter @tomamoran. Find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.