By Amanda Becker
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The No. 3 Democrat in the Senate said on Tuesday the Democratic Party had made a political mistake by pushing for Obamacare.
New York Senator Charles Schumer, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, said that after passing a stimulus package to jumpstart the economy during the economic downturn, Democrats "put all of our focus on the wrong problem" by turning to President Barack Obama's healthcare reform effort, which passed in 2010.
"The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed. But it wasn't the change we were hired to make," Schumer said, noting that 85 percent of Americans receive healthcare coverage from their employer or the government.
"We would have been better able to address it if Democrats had first proposed and passed bold programs aimed at a broader swath of the middle class," Schumer added.
He was speaking three weeks after midterm elections in which Democrats lost control of the Senate to Republicans, who oppose Obamacare as an unworkable expansion of big government that will hurt businesses and job growth.
The law aims to reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States.
Tuesday's address was the first of three speeches Schumer plans to give about the future of the Democratic Party, with a theme of embracing a pro-government platform at a time when many party candidates have been shying away from emphasizing government programs.
Schumer said such a platform helped get Obama elected in 2008, when Democrats also won the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was a broad mandate from voters to use government to resolve the financial crisis and reverse middle class decline, he said.
"When Barack Obama campaigned, he offered a pro-government message, telling people that they need government again; that they aren't fine on their own anymore," Schumer said.
But even the economic stimulus fell short, because Democrats were unable to pass as large a package as needed due to Republican opposition, and the law was so wide in its scope it created an opening for Republicans to criticize perceived pet projects, Schumer said.
He said the "most important mission" for Democrats in the buildup to the 2016 elections is to embrace government, take on special interests and come up with an achievable policy plan that can be welcomed by the party's moderate and liberal wings.
(Additional reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)