But Democrats should be proud of what they accomplished, Clyburn added. He defended their record, and in particular, the health care overhaul, in what some Members described as an emotional sermon to the Caucus on Tuesday.
“I was emotional about what we did, why we did it and why we ought not be sitting around second-guessing about whether we should have done it, because every family in America was touched in a very positive way by what we did, and I think that too many of our people were defensive about it. I did TV ads boasting about what we had done,” he said.
Clyburn told the Caucus that his mother died from cancer in 1971 without health insurance — the kind of story that he said led generations to seek a health care law.
“She begged me not to spend all of her money if she had no chance to live. I lied to her and told her she did have a chance to live,” he said.
“We spent every dime she had,” Clyburn said. “Now, that’s something I don’t want to see visited on anybody.”
Clyburn said he recalled the accomplishments of President Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s — including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and the Fair Housing Act — and said the health care law would take its place alongside those achievements.
“These were big deals, and they cost our party its dominance in the South. But I don’t know if anybody’s looking back and says we shouldn’t have done the Voting Rights Act,” Clyburn said. “This year John Dingell, who’s been pushing health care for his entire career, had serious opposition. ... Guess when the last time he’s had a close race like that? When he voted for the ’64 Civil Rights Act.”
Clyburn predicted that an improved economy would also help mend the rift between the Democratic Party’s liberal and moderate wings, as well as help return the party to the majority in two years.
If the economy improves, President Barack Obama, not Congressional Republicans, would get the credit, Clyburn said. If it doesn’t, Obama will get the blame.
“If we go into the elections two years from now, unemployment is down to 7 to 7.2 percent and the economy is growing, I think the wind will be at our backs and we’ll do fine,” he said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.