Chuck Schumer committed truth this week.
In a speech delivered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the New York senator acknowledged that he and his fellow Democrats made impolitic mistakes when they enacted the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, followed by the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
At the time, Democrats had one of their own in the White House and majorities in the House and Senate. Full of themselves, they enacted both laws with next to no buy-in from Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them,” Schumer said, reflecting on the past five years. “We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem – health care reform.”
Schumer is partly right. Democrats did, indeed, blow it.
But not by choosing the wrong legislative priorities – the economic stimulus plan and Obamacare – but by enacting legislation of such tremendous impact – for better or worse – on a strictly partisan basis.
Indeed, the price tag for the stimulus was $831 billion, which was greater than the cost of military operations during the Vietnam War. Obamacare was an extreme makeover of the health care system, representing one-sixth of the nation’s economy.
When legislation of such magnitude becomes the law of the land, it should be with the support of not just a single party – even if it temporarily enjoys political hegemony.
That brings us to Mr. Obama’s misuse of his executive authority to effectively bestow amnesty (at least until he’s out of office) upon as many as 5 million illegal immigrants before Republican majorities take control of both chambers of Congress in January.
The president thinks he has done a service to those “living in the shadows,” 60 percent of whom are Mexican nationals and another 15 percent of whom hail from Central American countries.
So vainglorious is Mr. Obama, he probably reckons that history will favorably remember him for legalizing the undocumented the way Abraham Lincoln is remembered for freeing the slaves.
But the far more likely scenario is that Mr. Obama will be remembered for blowing the historic opportunity to sign a transformative immigration reform law supported by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Indeed, Republican leaders on the Hill were prepared to negotiate on comprehensive immigration reform with the Obama White House and congressional Democrats.
But Mr. Obama decided to take unilateral action on immigration, shaking his fist at the incoming Republican Congress and all but destroying the prospect of an immigration law over the next two years.
That’s bad news for the nation’s estimated 11 million illegal immigrants because there was, until recently, a national consensus on immigration policy, with rank-and-file Democrats and Republicans alike supportive of comprehensive reform.
Rather than grow that consensus, Mr. Obama eroded it. That was borne out in September by an ABC News-Washington Post poll in which 60 percent of Americans said they disapproved of the way the president was handling immigration issues.
Mr. Obama has made the same regrettable mistake with immigration reform that he made with health care reform. Rather than bend his energy to finding common ground with Republicans on legislation of great national import, he decided he’d do things entirely his own way.
That’s why Obamacare does not to this day enjoy the support of the American people.
And it’s why many of us who heretofore supported comprehensive immigration reform, as an act of grace toward the nation’s undocumented, now think that such reform should be left to Mr. Obama’s successor.