Ignore Chuck Schumer–The Democrats Were Right To Pass Obamacare

Charlie Cook is usually an astute political observer but he is making a mistake in paying too much attention to what Chuck Schumer said about Obamacare hurting the Democrats. The argument, which many have brought up, is that the Democrats made a political mistake by concentrating on health care as opposed to the economy. There are many problems with this theory to explain the Democratic loses in 2014.

This premise is incorrect. Obama  did concentrate on the economy first, getting us out of the depression which Bush had us heading into. This included the stimulus, which was successful, and saving the auto industry. In retrospect a larger stimulus package would have done more good, but this was not feasible politically, regardless of whether Obama also worked on health care reform.  Obama can walk and chew gum at the same time. Working on health care reform did not prevent him from working on the economy.

Those who argue that Obama should have put off health care reform for a later date are forgetting that he had a narrow window and that it could not have passed if postponed. While Republicans often claim that Obama had a super-majority in the Senate, along with controlling the House, for his first two years and therefore could have done whatever he wanted, this is not true. Due to vacancies from matters such as the delay in seating Al Franken and Ted Kennedy’s illness and later death, Democrats and independents caucusing with them had sixty votes for only five months. This included Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson who often did not go along with the rest of the Democrats. It was also these two who blocked the Medicare buy-in and public option, so they are the ones you should be angry with if you are facing higher premiums than you want to pay for insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act, among its other benefits, is also important for its effects on economic recovery. Obamacare helps those in the middle class who had medical expenses they could not afford in the past. In is also beneficial to the economy long term by eliminating the problem of people being forced to work for larger companies to obtain coverage. This allows more people to work for smaller companies, or to start companies of their own to stimulate the economy. In Republican-speak, Obamacare increases the number of job creators.

Those who blame Democratic loses on Obamacare ignore all the other factors involved in 2014, such as Democrats being forced to defend so many seats in red states in the sixth year of a presidency. Even Ronald Reagan could not prevent his party from losing the Senate in his sixth year in office.  Obamacare did not turn out to be the major issue that many had predicted, and even without Obamacare it is likely there would have been an anti-Democratic mood. Larry Sabato pointed out this week that it is actually the norm for a political party to lose Congressional seats when they control the White House.

The Democrats also made serious mistakes which hurt politically. They failed to make the case for the harm done by Republican economic policies, and take credit for their own successes. On Obamacare, the mistake was not passing the law but having Democratic candidates run away from it when they should have been explaining the benefits of the law. Democratic candidates ran away from Obama and his policies, and then were shocked when the Obama voters didn’t turn out to vote for them. Polls show that a majority supports the Democrats on the issues, including the specifics of the Affordable Care Act, but this does not help the Democrats when they run as Republican-lite.

For Schumer to argue that they should not have passed Obamacare because it hurt politically also is another sign of how the Democrats, while far preferable to the Republicans, far too often are afraid to stand for anything. What is the point of winning election if the victories are not used to accomplish something? LBJ was not afraid to pass the civil rights act despite knowing that this would help Republican politicians take the south from the Democrats.

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  1. 1
    David Duff says:

    Well, I suggest you go for ‘Obamacare Mk. II’ over the next two years and that should ensure a Republican presidency as well as Republican control of both houses!

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    Different voters in a general election than a midterm. There are ways for the Democrats to blow the election but demographics support them, and there are far more ways for Republicans to blow it. Obamacare should not be a major factor, especially considering how well it is turning out for those actually using it.

  3. 3
    JimZ says:

    Ron’s right.  First, a president only has so many tries at the basket.  He took the right one with the ACA, and it is having a major positive impact on ordinary Americans.  Don’t forget that the public was clamoring for health care reform back in ’92 when Bill Clinton was elected; while that effort was crushed, I just don’t see the country reversing the progress made to date.   The ACA has already lost its traction as a political issue (that’s not to say that the SCOTUS won’t throw a monkey wrench into it, but there’s a possibility that a negative ruling could if anything dramatize the different health care opportunities between the “have” and the “have not” states – those without state markets being at an obvious – and large – disadvantage).
    I have been very critical of Obama for not pushing harder and doing more on economic stimulus, but the past is past.  The media deserve a lot of the blame for its obsession over “the deficit” to the harm of Americans for decades to come.  Despite clearly contractionary fiscal policy over the past 5 years, our economy is in less bad shape than most other advanced countries today.
    Lawrence O’Donnell recently had a good piece arguing that the GOP will have an increasingly hard time competing for the white house, the way the electoral college is set up.  In addition, unlike 2014, in 2016 there are far more GOP-held senate seats in play than democratic ones, so they are the ones who should be sweating it.  That’s not to say that there won’t be more efforts to suppress the Democratic vote in many states, but those tactics will become ever more desperate, and expect efforts on the ground to counteract these tactics.  Finally, no one should underestimate Hillary Clinton’s political skills, her popularity, and the ability of Obama himself to campaign for her.
    I think we’re in for a terrible 2 years, but Obama as shown the ability to blunt many of the silly GOP tactics and turn them around against them.  He will also have to get out the veto pen more often, although no one should see that as a panacea since there are bills he has to sign just to keep the government running.

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    It is a consequence of the six year staggering of Senate seats that each election each party has to defend Senate seats which they picked up in a type of election which was more favorable to them under less favorable situation. This year Democrats had to defend seats they picked up six years ago when Obama was first elected. In 2016 Republicans are at the disadvantage in having to defend seats they picked up in the 2010 midterm GOP sweep.

    Republicans will try to suppress the vote, but the biggest factor suppressing turnout in 2014 was probably apathy. Blue state Democrats where there they didn’t think there was a competitive race didn’t see reason to turn out in 2014 but they will turn out in 2016.

    Unfortunately I do not think that Hillary Clinton’s political skills are very good, but everything else is advantageous to the Democrats that year.

    Over the next two years I hope that the Republicans are foolish enough to think they have a mandate to really pass their most extreme policies in Congress, and let Obama be the hero in vetoing them.

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