BROWNS MILLS — As the final weeks of the presidential campaign begin, two New Jersey politicians are calling for bipartisan consensus on Medicare funding for hospitals in the largely urban state’s rural areas. In a campaign season marked by division within each party over their respective nominees, the consistently blue state’s Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and U.S. Representative Tom MacArthur (R-3) called for bipartisan cooperation from the Republican stronghold of Burlington County.
Menendez, a Clinton surrogate who is facing his own challenges in the wake of an indictment on 14 federal corruption charges, called the legislation an important step toward funding hospitals like the Deborah Heart and Lung Center where he and MacArthur spoke Tuesday.
Reimbursement rates for similar rural hospitals lag behind their counterparts in other states due to New Jersey’s federal designation as ‘urban,’ a problem that the two lawmakers are hoping to remedy with the ‘Fairness for Our Hospitals Act.’
“Deborah’s mission of providing the best cardiac, pulmonary and vascular care—while never once billing a patient—is the model of what a hospital should be,” Menendez wrote in a statement.
MacArthur, a first-term Republican congressman from Republican-leaning Ocean County, said he was “pleased to partner with Senator Menendez on this important legislative fix.”
Both Menendez and MacArthur are facing unexpected challenges this year, with MacArthur running down the ticket with Donald Trump and Menendez persevering under the shadow of his approaching trial.
On Trump’s potential down-ballot effect for more moderate or reserved state and county Republicans, MacArthur shied away from making any predictions and stopped short of making the case for Trump, who he has officially endorsed. Aimee Belgard, his congressional opponent in 2013, won her seat on the Burlington County Freeholder Board in 2012 on President Barack Obama’s reelection coattails.
“I don’t think anyone knows what shape or form that will take,” he said. “And so I think it’s incumbent on every elected official, certainly I see it this way in my race. I need to make sure that voters know who I am and what I stand for and what I’m fighting for so they can make a decision.”
“Elections aside, Republicans and Democrats were elected to get stuff done,” he continued. “And congress is ground to a halt right now.”
Republicans across the country, he said, will have to stay vigilant in a year when many see an opening for Democrats to win back seats in the House and Senate. Republicans currently hold a 55-44 majority against Democrats in the Senate, and a 247-186 majority in the House.
“Certainly the risk is greater in the Senate because the margin is so thin today,” he said of Democrats potentially reclaiming the majority they lost in 2014. “I don’t think anybody really expects the Republicans to lose the House, because they’d have to win a lot of seats to accomplish that.
“But I think that it’s an unpredictable cycle, and we have work to do.”
Menendez, for his part, will be working with pro-Hillary Clinton latino groups “to solidify the support in the community, which she has.
“But it’s more about getting people out,” he added.
Asked whether he expects the federal investigation into his allegedly accepting gifts from a political donor will hinder his ability to get out the vote for Clinton, Menendez said no.
“Just like it hasn’t been a handicap to help Deborah, it won’t be a handicap to help Hillary.”