New York Sen. Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that Democrats made a mistake by setting their sights on health care reform early in President Barack Obama’s first term, arguing that his party should have focused on fixing the economy first.
“Unfortunately, Democrats lost the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform,” the No. 3 Democratic senator, a leader on messaging and policy, told reporters in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.
Schumer said Obamacare, enacted in March 2010, was a “good bill” that he’s “proud” to have voted for, but he said it “should have come later” after Democrats had adequately addressed the woes of the middle class.
“The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed, but it was not the change we were hired to make,” he said. “Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs, not changes in health care. This makes sense, considering 85 percent of all Americans got their health care from either the government, Medicare, Medicaid, or their employer. And if health care costs were going up, it really did not affect them. The Affordable Care Act was aimed at the 36 million Americans who were not covered. It has been reported that only a third of the uninsured are even registered to vote.”
The message of Schumer’s speech, which came weeks after his party lost the Senate majority, was that “Democrats must embrace government” as a vehicle to help the middle class in order to win the 2016 election.
“The focus on Obamacare gave anti-government forces in the Republican party new vigor and life, at least temporarily,” he said, referencing Democrats’ defeat in the 2010 elections.
Schumer had expressed reservations in August 2010 about tackling health care at the time, telling the New Yorker he didn’t “begrudge Barack Obama choosing it, even though if I were President I might not have.”