Liberals punch back at Dem criticism of ObamaCare

Liberals punch back at Dem criticism of ObamaCare
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Liberals on and off Capitol Hill are defending President Obama's healthcare law from the friendly fire of fellow Democrats.

The liberals say the criticisms from Sens. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurkey says soldier killed despite cease-fire in Syria Schumer calls for FDA to probe reports of contaminated baby food How Trump and Pelosi went from bad to worse MORE (N.Y.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Iowa) are not only flat wrong, but also pointless coming four years after the law’s passage.

"I disagree with both of them," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who helped usher the bill into law as then-chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. "I disagree with what they said, and I can't quite see a lot of value in it."

Schumer and Harkin – both of whom played an outsized role in crafting the legislation in 2009 and 2010 – have raised eyebrows in recent weeks by second-guessing the wisdom of their work. 

Schumer said the Democrats' timing was poor, arguing that party leaders should have used the momentum coming out of the Democrats' 2008 election sweep to focus on bread-and-butter economic issues.

“After passing the stimulus, Democrats should have continued to propose middle-class-oriented programs and built on the partial success of the stimulus,” Schumer, the Senate's third-ranking Democrat, said in a Nov. 25 speech at the National Press Club. “Americans were crying out for an end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs – not for changes in their healthcare."

Harkin took those jabs a step further this week, arguing that the policy itself is flawed because Democrats didn't fight hard enough for a public insurance option or a single-payer system, like that underlying Medicare.

“We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly, and we didn’t do it,” Harkin, the chairman of the Senate health committee, told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.

“What we did is we muddled through and we got a system that is complex, convoluted, needs probably some corrections and still rewards the insurance companies extensively,” he added.

Waxman fired back, saying the ObamaCare law was the best the Democrats could do given the resistance from centrist Senate Democrats and outright opposition from Republicans.

"What Sen. Harkin would have liked might have been better, but it couldn't have passed," Waxman said. "[And] I disagree with Sen. Schumer [in] that this was a very important accomplishment by this administration, and I think the Democrats and Sen. Schumer ought to be proud of it." 

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, delivered a similar message, arguing that, while there are plenty of improvements that could be made to the law, the critics should focus their attention on getting those things done instead of questioning the value of the law as it stands.

"There are things that can make the bill better, more accessible and certainly more affordable," Grijalva said. "But in terms of saying we should have done something else, I think it's kind of late in the process." 

Grijalva said he agreed that Democrats should have pushed harder to lower the Medicare eligibility age and promote a public option "that would make the competitive situation on the exchanges much more to the benefit of taxpayers and individuals."

"[But] the only second-guessing that we can do now is to try to provide some fixes to those areas," he said.

Top House Democratic leaders also took steps to defend the Affordable Care Act this week. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while not specifically mentioning the Democratic criticisms from across the Capitol, used her weekly press conference to trumpet what she said are the successes of the law.

Citing recently released administration figures, the California Democrat noted that the number of hospital-acquired conditions dropped by 1.3 million cases in 2013 – "an important part of the legislation," she said – while national healthcare spending grew by 3.6 percent in the same year, "the lowest annual increase since the statistics began to be collected in 1960."

"So in terms of quality of care, in terms of cost to the individual and to the federal government, the news is very good," she said.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip, piled on, with his office releasing a statement Friday arguing that "millions of Americans" have been helped by the law. 

"They are benefitting from the elimination of lifetime limits on coverage, protections for those with pre-existing conditions, measures that ban discrimination against women, and other critical patient protections," the statement said.

Paul Krugman, the liberal economist and New York Times columnist, dedicated Friday's op-ed to dissecting Schumer's critique, characterizing it as "deeply wrongheaded."

"[E]conomic management is about substance, not theater. Having the president walk around muttering 'I’m focused on the economy' wouldn’t have accomplished anything," Krugman wrote. "And I’ve never seen any plausible explanation of how abandoning health reform would have made any difference at all to the political possibilities for economic policy."

Republicans, who voted unanimously against the healthcare law in 2010 and have tried repeatedly to undo it since then, have pounced on the criticisms from Schumer and Harkin. They see the comments from some of the law's chief architects as further evidence that ObamaCare is unworkable and needs to be repealed. 

"Obamacare has been a disaster for the Democrats," Jennifer Rubin, the conservative columnist for The Washington Post, wrote of Schumer's remarks. "Indeed it might have worsened the middle-class squeeze, impeded growth and made labor too expensive and jobs therefore scarce."

Liberal Democrats have rejected those assaults, saying the Republicans would have continued to attack Obama's signature domestic achievement with or without Schumer and Harkin entering the fray.

"It's not going to affect the Republicans one way or the other," Waxman said. "They're crazed over the idea that millions of Americans are going to get insurance and not be denied because of pre-existing conditions and get help to buy insurance if they couldn't afford it."