Sen. Chuck Schumer upbraided his own party Tuesday for pushing the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010.
While Schumer emphasized during a speech at the National Press Club that he supports the law and that its policies "are and will continue to be positive changes," he argued that the Democrats acted wrongly in using their new mandate after the 2008 election to focus on the issue rather than the economy at the height of a terrible recession.
"After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle-class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus, but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them," Schumer said. "We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem—health care reform."
The third-ranking Senate Democrat noted that just about 5 percent of registered voters in the United States lacked health insurance before the implementation of the law, arguing that to focus on a problem affecting such "a small percentage of the electoral made no political sense."
The larger problem, affecting most Americans, he said, was a poor economy resulting from the recession. "When Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought, 'The Democrats aren't paying enough attention to me,' " Schumer said.
The health care law should have come later, Schumer argued, after Democrats had passed legislation to help the middle class weather the recession. Had Democrats pushed economic legislation, he said, "the middle class would have been more receptive to the idea that President Obama wanted to help them" and, in turn, they would have been more receptive to the health care law.
Schumer said he told fellow Democrats in the lead-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act that it was the wrong time to pass the law.
"People thought—and I understand this—lots of people thought this was the only time to do this, it's very important to do. And we should have done it. We just shouldn't have done it first," he said. "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."
Schumer blamed the push for the Affordable Care Act so early in Obama's first term for the rise of the tea-party movement, which destroyed the Democratic majority in the House in 2010 and went on to—long with a number of other missteps by the federal government, including implementation of the law—oust the Democratic majority in the Senate as well in 2014.
This article is from the archive of our partner National Journal.