New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third-ranking member of the Democrats' Senate leadership team, made waves with his claim last month that the party would have been better off focusing on the economy in the early months of the Obama presidency, rather than pressing for passage of health care reform.
"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," Schumer told the National Press Club on November 25. Had Democrats focused exclusively on stimulating the economy, Schumer went on to argue, they'd have accelerated the recovery from the Great Recession and converted Americans toward a "more pro-government view."
"Then," Schumer asserted, "Democrats would have been in a better position to tackle our nation’s health care crisis."
Liberal economist Paul Krugman says Schumer's argument is bunk.
In his New York Times column today, Krugman lays into the senator's notion that there'd have been a more opportune time to pass the landmark Affordable Care Act. First, however, Krugman cites measures like the uninsured rate and health care costs to note that health reform is working well as public policy -- regardless of the politics.
As for Schumer, Krugman writes, the Democrat could hardly be more misguided in his criticism. In his National Press Club speech, the senator dinged Democrats for quickly pivoting toward health reform in 2009, even though few uninsured Americans vote. But as Krugman notes, Obamacare doesn't just benefit the uninsured; it's also a boon to Americans who lose their jobs or their employer-sponsored insurance, as well as anyone who'd like to change jobs but can't find one that carries health insurance. The columnist could have added individuals with preexisting health conditions and adults who can now stay on their parents' health insurance plans until age 26 to the list.
Moreover, Krugman wonders, what more would Schumer have had Democrats do on the economy? Sure, Krugman writes, the president should have advocated a bigger economic stimulus "but that fight took place in the very first months of his administration, before the push for health reform got underway." Meanwhile, the Republican Party determined that its path to electoral recovery depending on reflexive obstruction to any of Obama's proposals.
"Do you think this would have been different without health reform? Seriously?" Krugman asks.
Most important, Krugman continues, isn't the implementation of policies that help people and solve big problems the whole point of winning elections in the first place? Rejecting the chance to pass health reform in the wake of their big 2008 victories would have been "incredibly cynical" on Democrats' part, he contends.
Finally, Krugman concludes, perhaps the politics of Obamacare wouldn't be quite as bad if Democratic politicians actually defended "the best thing they've done in decades," rather than frantically flee their own historic achievement.