Home / General / Was Passing the Affordable Care Act A Mistake? (SPOILER: No.)

Was Passing the Affordable Care Act A Mistake? (SPOILER: No.)


Chuck Schumer is reiterating his argument that Democrats should have done some unspecified things for the “middle class” rather than the Affordable Care Act. I’ve discussed this genre of argument before, and Brian Beutler does a good job on this round. But to summarize what should be obvious:

  • The Affordable Care Act is almost certainly the most important progressive legislation passed by Congress since the Johnson administration.  It will save many lives, alleviate a great deal of suffering. prevent many people from the crushing anxiety of massive debt and bankruptcy.  This puts a huge burden of proof on the Emmanuel/Frank/Schumer position.  If I’m going to give this up, I’d better be getting a lot in exchange for it.
  • This goes triple, because Truman failed to enact comprehensive health care reform and LBJ failed and Clinton failed.  An opportunity to pass it was not going to come along again for a long time.
  • One of the hypothetical proposed benefits cannot be retaining control of the House in 2010.  Maybe there was an alternative legislative strategy that could have saved the Democrats a few seats.  There were no legislative strategies that could have saved the Democrats 50 seats.
  • We should note at this point that given the delay in seating Franken, Ted Kennedy’s illness, and the Martha Coakley Experience I, the Democrats had a filibuster-proof supermajority for exactly 60 days while the Senate was in session in 2009-10.  Congressional Republicans had an explicit strategy of denying Obama any major achievement. There was not going to be another big stimulus passed during this period.  There was not going to be a wide array of legislation passed during this period.  Josh Blackman’s assertion that “the President could have done immigration, climate change, and so many other goals” during this very narrow window is quite clearly false.
  • And on the only one of these issues that could possibly compare to the ACA in terms of importance — climate change — the narrow supermajority window was beside the point.  I don’t know how anyone could look at Mary Landrieu desperately trying to get Senate approval of Keystone while drawing dead in a runoff election and think that she was ever going to vote for cap-and-trade.  And even if you can somehow get her vote you would have needed Robert Byrd and Mark Pryor and Ben Nelson. You would have needed the two Democratic senators each from North Dakota and Montana.    Unless there was a button Obama could have pushed that would transform Congress into a unicameral legislature with representation-by-population that didn’t massively overrepresent rural and/or conservative and/or fossil-fuel dependent states, cap-and-trade was Not Happening.  The choice was not between the ACA and cap-and-trade.  The choice was the ACA or nothing remotely as important.

The point of winning elections is to do stuff.  The point of winning elections if you’re a Democrat is to do stuff that will protect the most vulnerable members of society and remedy the worst inequities.  Getting the ACA passed fulfills these bedrock goals far better than any plausible alternative course of action.

…Dean Baker has more. As does Paul Waldman.  And, most importantly and eloquently, Nancy Pelosi.  “”We come here to do a job, not keep a job. There are more than 14 million reasons why that’s wrong.”  Just so.

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