Democrats addressed the “wrong problem” when they pushed health care instead of programs that would directly benefit the middle class, the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat said Tuesday.
“We were in the middle of a recession, people were hurting and said, ‘What about me? I'm losing my job. It's not healthcare that bothers me,’’’ said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
He also criticized the 2009 economic stimulus, authored by Democrats, saying “It was a mistake, frankly, for Democrats in Congress to make the breadth of the stimulus so wide that funding seemed to be going to any number of pet programs and not just things that would jumpstart the economy.”
Schumer made his remarks at a National Press Club speech that discussed the 2014 and 2016 elections. Republicans won control of both chambers of Congress in the Nov. 4 election.
He maintained Democrats will prosper again when they convince voters the party is fighting for the middle class.
“When large forces, harnessed and encouraged by the private sector push you around and you feel helpless, you need a large counterforce to stand up to, to stand up for you,” he said.
“The only force that can give you the tools to stand up to the large tectonic forces, that can mitigate the effects that technology creates on your income, is an active and committed government that is on your side.
“People know in their hearts that when big powerful private sector forces degrade their lifestyle only government can protect them.”
Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and it became a political flashpoint. Republicans railed against it, saying it was big government run amuck, and won control of the House of Representatives that year.
Schumer recalled 2008, when Democrats won the White House and controlled both chambers. That was “a broad mandate to use government to stop the free fall caused by the financial crisis and reverse the middle class decline,” Schumer said.
President Barack Obama’s first big initiative was the stimulus, aimed at easing the country’s worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“But the stimulus was not the bright spot for Democrats that it could have been for two reasons,” Schumer said..
Since Republicans tried to block it, Democrats could not pass as big a package as some hoped.
“Therefore,” he said, “While it certainly prevented things from getting worse, its positive effects didn’t really break through.”
Second was the scope of the stimulus. “It gave Republicans the opportunity to create the impression that the bill was loaded up with pork, which they used to frame the whole bill as a taxpayer-funded giveaway to special interests,” he said.
“So the stimulus, even though it was absolutely successful as a measure to pull our economy back from the brink, was not as successful as it could have been (politically) in making the middle class feel that government was there for them.”
Next up for Obama was overhauling the nation’s health care system.
“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus,” Schumer said, “but unfortunately Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them. We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem – health care reform. “
But health care was not what people wanted addressed. “It wasn’t the change we were hired to make; Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs; not for changes in their health care,” he said.