By Julian Pecquet and Sam Baker
An increasing number of Democrats are taking potshots at President Obama's healthcare law ahead of a Supreme Court decision that could overturn it.
The public grievances have come from centrists and liberals and reflect rising anxiety ahead of November's elections.
"I think we would all have been better off -- President Obama politically, Democrats in Congress politically, and the nation would have been better off -- if we had dealt first with the financial system and the other related economic issues and then come back to healthcare," said Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), who is retiring at the end of this Congress.
Miller, who voted for the law, said the administration wasted time and political capital on healthcare reform, resulting in lingering economic problems that will continue to plague Obama's reelection chances in 2012.
Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) also criticized his party's handling of the issue, and said he repeatedly called on his leaders to figure out how they were going to pay for the bill, and then figure out what they could afford.
Cardoza, who like Miller will retire at the end of the Congress, said he thought the bill should have been done "in digestible pieces that the American public could understand and that we could implement."
The most recent wave of misgivings from Democrats began with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who told New York magazine that Democrats "paid a terrible price for healthcare."
Frank said Obama had erred in pushing the legislation after GOP Sen. Scott Brown's January 2010 victory in Massachusetts, which took away the Senate Democrats' 60th vote.
Most of the second-guessing has come from retiring members such as Frank and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who this week predicted the law will be Obama's "biggest downside" heading into the November elections. Such members can afford to be more candid in speaking their minds without offending their leadership, but are also likely to reflect the feelings of other lawmakers in the House and Senate.
To be sure, the comments from Frank and others have stirred up supporters of the law, who say the criticism is misinformed.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), for example, took issue with Webb's suggestion that the president should have given Congress more direction on the issue. Webb said the way the law was passed "cost Obama a lot of credibility as a leader."
"Maybe if you weren't on one of the committees you wouldn't have known that, but the administration was super involved with it," said Schwartz, who served on the Ways and Means Committee when the healthcare law was approved.
Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who helped write the law as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2010, compared Frank's comments to Democratic hand-wringing during the year-plus legislative debate. Democrats were divided over what Obama should tackle first, and the White House was repeatedly urged to abandon the effort.
Waxman said Obama made the right decision and brushed off the latest round of second-guessing.
"I don't know that it makes a lot of difference one way or the other," Waxman said. "People can say what they think. People were saying it at the time. People said publicly, and to the president personally -- they called on him not to go forward with healthcare, even in the White House. And he, to his credit, stood as a stalwart supporter of getting that job done."
Frank, he added, eventually got the financial reform bill he wanted.
Democrats have already suffered defeats blamed on the healthcare fight.
The party lost 63 seats and control of the House and six seats in the Senate in 2010, a little more than a half-year after Obama signed the healthcare bill into law.
"It did hurt us, there's no doubt about it. The climate out there was really ugly because of it," said Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), who is also retiring at the end of this Congress.
But Dicks argues the party isn't likely to suffer much more because of the law, regardless of the Supreme Court's actions.
"It's just not an issue. It's all the economy," Dicks said. "We paid a big price two years ago. But we've already paid it."
Others aren't so sure.
Former Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.), who lost his primary for Alabama governor after voting against the law, said healthcare remains an albatross for Democrats in 2012, and will be even more of a problem if the Supreme Court overturns the law in June.
"I think the Affordable Care Act is the single least popular piece of major domestic legislation in the last 70 years. It was not popular when it passed; it's less popular now," Davis said. "I think the worst thing that could happen to Barack Obama's reelection campaign would be if he had to spend four months this fall explaining what ObamaCare 2 would look like."
Democratic strategist James Carville and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are among the heavy hitters in the party who have argued the Supreme Court would help Obama by rejecting the law.
"There's a significant school of thought that the administration is -- puts them in a better position for the election if it's turned down," Reid told reporters after oral arguments.
The White House hasn't offered similar predictions, but Obama isn't running away from his signature Affordable Care Act, either.
"An uninsured father with a cancer diagnosis could have been a short, sad story," Obama tweeted Thursday. "Thanks to the #ACA, it's not."