Watching Jonathan Gruber testify before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee on Tuesday was likely too much for most Democrats to take, as he characterized his remarks describing Congress as tricking Americans into approving a new tax as “thoughtless,” as well as “mean,” “glib,” “uncalled for” and “embarrassing.”
It’s the very definition of the door hitting them on the way out. Four years after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed by only Democrats, the law has contributed to giving Republicans their strongest hold on Congress in more than a century and a half.
What’s even more frightening than the law’s unpopularity is the prospect of ObamaCare being dismantled by a coming Supreme Court review. Should the court rule that a suggestion by Gruber — an economics professor and healthcare expert credited with building not only the ACA but also the Massachusetts program said to have inspired the ACA— is true, the law will implode. Gruber has said in secretly videotaped comments that the intent was always to provide subsidies only to states operating their own exchanges, as an incentive for participation. That would make the subsidies now provided in 37 states with federal exchanges illegal.
The cumulative damage the Democratic Party has suffered, as well as the casualty rate — half of the 60 senators who supported the bill are since deceased, defeated or retired — has brought its leaders to an unhappy inflection and reflection point. Two years ago, President Obama was reelected to the surprise and delight of Democrats who believed that, not only would his unique coalition provide them with dominance in presidential cycles for the foreseeable future, but that perhaps the ACA backlash had passed. After losing their Senate majority and watching the GOP cement gains across federal offices, statehouses and regions Democrats might have lost for generations, however, buyer’s remorse on healthcare reform has led to angry division inside the party.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE (D-Nev.) now blames the debacle of the healthcare rollout for the GOP winning a 10-seat majority over Democrats last month. Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAnti-Trump Republicans on the line in 2022 too Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Democrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol MORE (D-N.Y.) came out in the days following the ghastly midterm election losses to declare Democrats hadn’t listened to the voters when they passed reform in 2010. “Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs — not for changes in their healthcare,” Schumer said in a speech blasted by several high-profile Democrats.
Schumer’s catharsis was followed by comments from retiring Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinFCC needs to help services for the deaf catch up to videoconferencing tech Biden celebrates anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act Ex-Rep. Abby Finkenauer running for Senate in Iowa MORE (D-Iowa.), also instrumental in drafting the bill, who lamented how “complicated” it was and said a single-payer system would have been better.
This dread was anticipated by some before the bill was even passed. Back in August of 2009, as the economy continued to suffer despite the promises of “recovery and reinvestment” of the $831 billion stimulus, both Vice President Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel counseled against passing a large, comprehensive bill and advocated a more incremental approach because they worried the ambitious task was, as The New Republic described, “sucking the political life out of the presidency.”
But the dissenting view was rejected, the ACA passed, and it remains politically toxic nearly five years later.
Now Democrats hope a better website, more enrollees, some bipartisan fixes and a second affirmative Supreme Court decision can save the law before Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE or another Democratic nominee has to finesse a position on it two years from now. If not, these four years are just the first in what could be decades before the Democratic Party is cured of its healthcare ills.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.