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Schumer: Democrats wrong to focus on health care

Senator Chuck Schumer, D-New York, criticized the Obama administration for choosing to focus on health care reform in 2009, when Democrats had large majorities in both the House and Senate, and said instead it should have focused on jobs.

"We were in the middle of a recession and people were hurting and said, 'What about me? I'm losing my job. It's not healthcare that bothers me. What about me? My income is declining and I can't do the things I used to do. It's not my healthcare at issue,'" Schumer said.

In 2009, Americans were still reeling from the effects of the financial crisis, but, said Schumer, "about 85 percent of Americans were fine with their healthcare in 2009."

He still supports the health care law but believes--and said he argued at the time--that the Democratic party should have kept its focus on economic issues in the midst of the recession. He lamented that the tea party was able to use the President's focus on health care to make the argument that "this government is aimed at someone else and not you." Schumer also said that neither Democrats in Congress nor the administration paid enough attention to selling their arguments on the need for health care reform.

This was the first of three speeches Schumer will deliver on a strategy for the Democratic Party to retake the Senate Majority in 2016. Broadly, he pointed to the decade-long decline in middle-class incomes due largely to globalization and technological shifts, and asserted that Democrats must push for an active government to protect against these forces. Schumer accepts that these shifts are inevitable, and even welcome, but they also mean Democrats are going to have to come up with policies that enable the middle class to adapt and thrive.

At this point, he didn't identify what those Democratic policies might be, but he did go on to argue that GOP policies are not as friendly to American workers. "The Republican answer is to give private-sector forces even more power to function without inhibition," said Schumer.

"By using government in a directed and focused way, we will provide a shield against the large forces that have worked against middle-class families, so that they can have a better job and more money in their pockets," Schumer said.

Schumer, who spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, is the third-ranking member of Democratic leadership in the Senate and serves as the Senate Democratic Policy Chair. In 2006 he led the successful Democratic effort to retake the Senate.