As I wrote at Forbes yesterday, New York Senator Charles Schumer has placed the blame for the Democrat’s disastrous defeat in this fall’s election squarely at the feet of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
Speaking at the National Press Club the other day, the third-ranking Democrat in the US Senate said that whatever the merits or demerits of health reform, it was bad politics.
About 95 percent of all voters have health insurance, Schumer said, and the vast majority of those like the insurance they have. By contrast, most of the uninsured don’t vote. Only a third of them are even registered to vote.
Although Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic insiders expressed surprise and disagreement with Schumer’s observations, the underlying facts have been well known (if only intuitively) by Democratic candidates for decades. How else can you explain the odd history of health care and the Democratic Party?
National health insurance has been in the national Democratic Party platform forever – okay, at least since the 1930s. Yet there have been only a few instances when Democrats in office made any serious effort to deliver on that promise. For most of the last seven decades, congressional Democrats made no serious effort to insure the middle class uninsured. They even voted against Republican proposals to give tax deductions or tax credits to people who buy their own health insurance.
The exception to this pattern is the ability of the self-employed to deduct their own health insurance costs. Congressional Democrats supported this exception, or at least didn’t block it, although the self-employed are overwhelmingly Republican. But when it came to proposals to extend the same tax relief to people who ordinarily vote Democrat, Congressional Democrats had no interest whatsoever.
There have been only a few occasions when Democrats have made any serious effort to reform the entire health care system. Prior to Obamacare, the last effort was Hillarycare. And that was when Democrats discovered something some of them may not have already known: The uninsured do not lobby. They do not make campaign contributions. In fact, they don’t even vote!
And although those who have health insurance are not indifferent to the plight of the uninsured, polls show that the amount of taxes they are willing to pay to insure the uninsured is generally less than $100.
Since the days of Franklin Roosevelt, the Democratic Party has been a collection of special interest groups. What Democrats do when they are in office is legislate favors for the interest groups who support them at the polls. But once in a while Democrats do something that is purely ideological and for which there is virtually no special interest support.
In the first two years of the Obama presidency, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and they had a filibuster proof majority in the Senate. It was a perfect opportunity to satisfy the ideological goals of their left wing base. But no reform is possible without the support of the core special interest constituencies. So we got national health reform completely designed by special interests!
I can’t emphasize this enough. The people being helped by Obamacare (the uninsured) had absolutely no input into the design of the Affordable Came Act. The health reform bill was completely and totally designed by people who were already insured and who had an economic interest in making sure health reform was good for them.
The result, of course, has been a big mess. Such a mess that Democratic candidates in this last election were on the defensive about Obamacare from the git go. Hardly any were bragging about the fact that about 10 million people have been newly insured. Instead, they were more apt to say, “Mend it don’t end it.”
Even that message didn’t seem to help.