As Jonathan Gruber gets set to testify today before Congress, today’s Review & Outlook in the Wall Street Journal examines how “three elections later, the law continues to be a political catastrophe for Democrats:”
Mary Landrieu’s defeat in Saturday’s Louisiana Senate runoff was no surprise, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored as inevitable. Ms. Landrieu was a widely liked three-term incumbent, and her GOP foe was hardly a juggernaut, yet she lost by 14 points after Washington Democrats all but wrote her off. Think of Ms. Landrieu as one more Democrat who has sacrificed her career to ObamaCare.
It’s hard to find another vote in modern history that has laid waste to so many political careers. Sixty Democrats cast the deciding 60th vote for the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010, but come January only 30 will be left in the Senate. That’s an extraordinary political turnover in merely three elections, the largest in the post-Watergate era. As it happens, the law has been nearly as politically catastrophic for Democrats as Watergate was for Republicans.
Three of the ObamaCare 60 died in office, while 19 declined to run for re-election. Some of the retirees left for reasons such as becoming Secretary of State ( John Kerry ), but others left because their own re-election prospects were hardly stellar. Think Chris Dodd of Connecticut in 2010 or Virginia’s Jim Webb in 2012. At least Democrats succeeded them.
Yet no fewer than eight of the retirees handed their seats to Republicans: They include Ben Nelson, of Cornhusker Kickback fame, who deprived his state of the pleasure of returning him to private life in 2010. After five terms, Jay Rockefeller was increasingly out of step with West Virginia, not least on ObamaCare. Max Baucus (Montana), Tim Johnson (S.D.) and Byron Dorgan (N.D.) would have had rough rides had they tried to stick around.
When they got the chance, voters dumped eight ObamaCare incumbents who dared to seek re-election. In addition to Ms. Landrieu, four are moderate-in-name-only Democrats who went along with President Obama ’s lurch to the left: Mark Begich (Alaska), Kay Hagan (North Carolina), Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor (Arkansas).
But conventional liberals like Russ Feingold (Wisconsin) and Mark Udall (Colorado) also lost in states Mr. Obama carried twice. In Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter left the GOP to vote for ObamaCare after Republican Pat Toomey announced he’d run against him in a primary. Specter, since deceased, lost the Democratic primary to Joe Sestak, who lost to Mr. Toomey in two degrees of ObamaCare separation.
Mr. Obama told Democrats at a March 2010 pep rally that he knew they faced “a tough vote” but was “actually confident” that “it will end up being the smart thing to do politically because I believe that good policy is good politics.” That month, New York Senator Chuck Schumer claimed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that “by November those who voted for health care will find it an asset, those who voted against it will find it a liability.”
Mr. Schumer has since recanted, calling ObamaCare a disaster for the party of government. Nancy Pelosi said his remarks were “beyond comprehension,” which for liberals like her happens to be true. Their goal is to expand the entitlement state whether the public likes it or not, figuring that sooner or later enmity will subside and new programs will acquire a constituency. So it has always been in the Entitlement Age—until ObamaCare.
The law was supposed to be a landmark of liberal governance but is more unpopular now than on the day it passed. Credulous Democrats are telling each other that the insurance exchanges are working, yet voters are dissatisfied with the higher costs and fewer choices, Republicans continue to campaign and win on repeal, and a potentially debilitating legal challenge to the subsidies will be heard at the Supreme Court this spring.
Liberals like Ms. Pelosi take solace in believing that these losses were worth passing national health care, but she may be wrong even about that political bet. ObamaCare is so unpopular that Republicans may still have a chance to rewrite it after 2016, and even Hillary Clinton may acknowledge the need to reform the reform.
Such is the political price Democrats are paying for ignoring voters and passing what we called at the time the worst law since FDR ’s National Industrial Recovery Act and the Smoot-Hawley tariff.