Schumer: Dems Should Have Pushed Jobs Over Health Care in 2009

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Tuesday it was a mistake for Democrats to spend their political capital on health care in 2009 when the economy was still flailing.

“For the average middle class voter ... it wasn’t at the top of their agenda,” Schumer said at the National Press Club, second-guessing President Barack Obama's biggest legislative accomplishment, adding that most Americans – 85 percent -- had health insurance either through the government or their employer.

Schumer, the third highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, said it would have been more prudent if his party had focused on jobs and the economy, the issues most on voters’ minds as the economy was still in recession.

After nodding to the struggling economy and rising unemployment by passing a stimulus bill shortly after President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January of 2009, the Democratic majority in Congress quickly moved to a massive health care overhaul, which took nearly a year to pass.

Schumer attributed opposition to the health care bill to the rise of the tea party, and he cited the law’s unpopularity as the reason for Democratic losses in the 2010 election, when the party lost several Senate seats and control of the House of Representatives.

Suggesting that Schumer's statement is filled with hypocrisy for the sake of political expediency, Republicans point out that Schumer said on "Meet the Press" in 2009 that the Affordable Care Act must be passed "for the sake of the country."

Some Democrats are not pleased with Schumer's statement, either. Jon Favreau, Obama's former speechwriter, tweeted, "So what are Chuck Schumer's specific ideas for 'middle-class programs' we should've passed instead of health care and after a big stimulus?"

After the large losses Democrats suffered in the 2014 election, Schumer said that Democrats must embrace strong government policies that focus on the middle class in order to win back the support of the white middle class voters most likely to vote in midterms.

- Leigh Ann Caldwell