(Bloomberg) — Democrats made a mistake by passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) in 2010 instead of focusing more directly on helping the middle class, third-ranking U.S. Senate Democrat Charles Schumer said today.

“Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them” in electing Obama and a Democratic Congress in 2008 amid a recession, Schumer of New York said in a speech in Washington. “We took their mandate and put all our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.”

Schumer said Democrats should have addressed issues aiding the middle class to build confidence among voters before turning to revamping the health-care system. He said he opposed the timing of the health-care vote and was overruled by other party members.

“The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships created by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed,” the senator said. “But it wasn’t the change we were hired to make” in the 2008 election.

Schumer’s comments represent an unusual public intra-party critique of the way Obama’s signature legislative achievement was enacted. The senator spoke at the National Press Club to analyze the results of this month’s election, when Republicans took control of the Senate and increased their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

High ground

Democrats’ pro-government posture “has the natural high political ground” when the middle class is frustrated as voters were before this month’s congressional election, Schumer said. At the same time, he said, Republicans were encouraging distrust toward government.

“That doesn’t mean we always win,” he cautioned. “When we don’t present a coherent, believable pro-government plan and message — when we allow government to mess up — we can easily lose.”

To win in 2016, “Democrats must embrace government, not run away from it,” Schumer said. Voter discontent will continue until one of the political parties convinces middle-class Americans that it has an agenda for helping them, he said.

Copyright 2018 Bloomberg. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.