New York Sen. Chuck Schumer has come out against Obamacare—but just not in the way one might expect. Schumer, who is the third highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, is a key playing in the Democratic party’s messaging system, so what he says really matters. And what he had to said about the Affordable Care Act in a recent speech at the National Press Club is a bit of a bombshell, via Politico:
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.”
These words might be the closest someone as high up as Schumer could or would get to critiquing Obamacare. Nevertheless, even a mild opposition like this suggests that a bill Democrats once thought would be a sure-fire winner has now become an albatross around their necks. Schumer clearly believes that Democrats need to distance themselves from the law designed to be the President’s main domestic legacy—and as Schumer thinks so too must many Democrats be thinking.But it’s remarkable that Schumer’s eagerness float the ACA out to sea led him to suggest that health care policy isn’t that important to voters. In the first place, voters disagree. In the second place, it isn’t possible to separate out an increasingly expensive health care system from the general economic distress that preys on the public’s mind. For Americans with good employer coverage, rising health care costs still suppress wages and cut into paychecks through higher premiums. For Americans with high deductible plans—an increasingly large group—rising costs mean higher out-of-pocket costs. For Medicaid patients, rising costs mean more doctors refusing to see Medicaid patients. The ACA has failed Democrats not because it was addressing a minor problem but because it addressed a major problem so poorly.If Democrats distance themselves from the ACA only to start downplaying health care policy in general they’ll be making a big mistake—as big a mistake as Republicans made by giving the American public no alternative to the ACA.