Both Ezra Klein and my colleague Igor Volsky have some worthy thoughts on the question of how much blame the Affordable Care Act deserves for the Democrats’ current political predicament. I would, however, add the obvious point that passing important laws is the reason you try to win elections in the first place so I don’t think “you might lose the next election” is ever a very good reason to avoid passing one.
If you want to look at a really poor use of a congressional majority, try to recall the 109th Congress of 2005-2006. You probably can’t remember it because they didn’t do anything. And the Republicans lost their majority anyway. Or maybe they lost their majority because they didn’t do anything. Either way, they didn’t do anything and the nature of political majorities is that they all vanish sooner or later. Suppose they’d done something better and had held on for two more years to do nothing as the 110th Congress. What would have happened then? Well, they would have lost in 2008, right? So . . . so what?
Now obviously you don’t want to risk a congressional majority over something trivial. But the Affordable Care Act is not a trivial law. It’s one of the most important laws of the past thirty years. So then the question becomes, was it important in a good way? I think it was. And that’s the job of a congressional majority—to pass important bills that change the world for the better. I think the 111th Congress did a fair amount of that. I’m a climate hawk and if I had to pick one, I would have rather seen an energy bill than a health care bill. But it wasn’t in the cards. So here we are, and I don’t think anyone has anything to be ashamed of.