I'm supposed to be furious at Chuck Schumer for what he just said, but I'm sorry, he has a point:
Democrats made a mistake by passing President Barack Obama's health-care law in 2010 instead of first focusing more directly on helping the middle class, third-ranking U.S. Senate Democrat Charles Schumer said today.You can say the bill was a great progressive victory -- but what Schumer says is the truth:
"Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them" in electing Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2008 amid a recession, Schumer of New York said in a speech in Washington. "We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem -- health care reform."
Schumer said Democrats should have addressed issues aiding the middle class to build confidence among voters before turning to revamping the health-care system. He said he opposed the timing of the health-care vote and was overruled by other party members.
"Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them."
"The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships created by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed," the senator said. "But it wasn't the change we were hired to make" in the 2008 election....
"We were in the middle of a recession. People were hurting and saying, 'What about me? I'm losing my job. It's not health care that bothers me. What about me?' ... About 85 percent of all Americans were fine with their health care in 2009, mainly because it was paid for by either the government or their employer, private sector. So they weren't clamoring. The average middle-class voter, they weren't opposed to doing health care when it started out, but it wasn't at the top of the agenda."What was at the top of the agenda was avoiding a huge hit from the economic meltdown. And far too many people did take a hit. The jobs programs were inadequate. The mortgage relief programs were abysmal.
Dave Weigel understands that this is a progressive argument, although he thinks it's absurd:
... the "shouldn't have done it first" critique is actually rooted on the left. The theory goes like this: Just as Franklin Roosevelt used his first two years in power to regulate big finance and engage in wild, stimulative deficit spending, Obama should have spent two years on banker-thrashing and redistribution. Roosevelt's 1934 midterm wins -- the last midterm wins for an incumbent president until 1998 -- allowed the party to become more ambitious in the second half of his first term, and to pass the Social Security Act.But Obama, even after the stimulus fight and the rise of the tea party, had enough juice to get the health care bill passed, because that's what he'd saved the rest of his political capital for. That was the make-or-break agenda item for him.
There's an alternative history of the Obama years in which the administration, like some time traveller sent back to fight Skynet, prevented the Tea Party from ever being born. It governed from the populist left; it owned the fight against "Wall Street" and denied the right the ability to side with the proles by opposing TARP. It's a widely held belief on the left that this really could have been done, with smarter hires and less concern for the financial world that was going to turn against Obama anyway. Obama could have, like FDR, "welcomed their hatred."
The small problem with this argument is that it's bonkers. The Republican opposition to the new Obama presidency did not begin with the ACA. It began with the economic stimulus bill, which Democrats had hoped to get as many as 80 Senate votes for, and ended up scraping through with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House.... There was just no evidence that the Republicans could be cowed, no matter how populist the Obama policy....
And of course he was going to prioritize that rather than a larger stimulus -- he was an ambitious president with an eye to the history books. A bigger stimulus wasn't going to be the accomplishment that made his name as a president -- for that he needed a big piece of legislation.
Except that what Obama is going to be known for is failing to help the middle class enough in the wake of the crash. I favor the health care law, but it's porous -- it doesn't help enough people, and there are many people it doesn't help at all.
What if stimulus and debt relief had gotten the make-or-break treatment from the White House? Weigel says the administration couldn't get more stimulus past the GOP, which put up tremendous resistance, but the GOP put up massive resistance to the health care law, and the White House pushed it through.
Would the health care law eventually have passed? Possibly not. But Obama would nevertheless be a president who'd delivered for a broad swath of the 99% -- a broader swath than those who've benefited from the health care law. I think it would have been a worthwhile tradeoff.