Obamacare Debate Continues to Tear Apart the Democratic Party

The Democratic hand-wringing over the Affordable Care Act has reached a fever pitch.

The third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer was the first to criticize the Obama Administration’s decision to prioritize health care reform over any further actions on the economy.

Schumer said that Democrats “blew the opportunity the American people gave them” by concentrating on health care during the depths of the recession. “We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem . . . Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, higher wages and more jobs, and not changes in health care.”

Some Democrats promptly went nuts. One unnamed aide said Schumer was using the law “as a backboard to score cheap self-promotional points.” The communications director for Democracy for America said that Schumer and anyone who thinks like him needs to have “their heads examined.”

Former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett was the most vicious. “In a way, it’s refreshing to see Schumer admit to being so cynical,” Lovett tweeted. “It’s been his MO forever.”

“Shorter Chuck Schumer,” Tommy Vietor, another former speechwriter, responded, “I wish Obama cared more about helping Democrats than sick people.”

Despite the public flagellation that Schumer received for his comments, other prominent Democrats have come forward to criticize the Affordable Care Act. Most notably, Sen. Tom Harkin, the chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions committee, told The Hill that Democrats should not have passed Obamacare.

“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 said. “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.

Now, respected New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall is jumping into the fray in support of Schumer by asking whether the health care reform is “destroying the Democratic Party” by eroding their traditional voter base.

Exit poll data from 1994, after President Clinton’s failed bid to pass health care reform, as well as from 2010 and 2014, provides further support for the Schumer argument. In each of those three midterm elections there were huge white defections from the Democratic Party; in 2010 and 2014, there were comparable defections of senior voters.

The loss of white supporters of House Democratic candidates can be seen in the data. In 1992, white voters split 50-50 between Democratic and Republican House candidates; in 1994, after the Hillarycare debacle, they voted Republican 58-42. By 2010 and 2014, whites voted for Republican House candidates by a 24-point margin, 62-38. The defection of seniors is most striking when comparing exit poll data from 2006 and 2010. In 2006, seniors of all races voted 52-48 for Democratic House candidates; in 2010, they voted 58-42 for Republican House candidates.

In other words, Edsall answers his own question in the affirmative – Obamacare is actively undermining the political viability of the Democratic Party. And if the current infighting, finger pointing and teeth gnashing over any Democrat who dares to not tow the pro-Obamacare line continues, it will only serve to further undermine their message. Because while the left continues to haggle over health insurance and the president issues executive actions on immigration reform, the vast majority of the working class—the people who remain worried about the current state of the economy—will continue voting for Republicans.