Four months later, however, he would again change his mind, rejecting a compromise version of the Affordable Care Act coming from the Senate. He was one of 34 Democrats to vote no, a group that otherwise mostly included conservative Democrats from vulnerable districts. The final vote was 219 for the act, 212 against.
Lynch said it lacked a public option, did not put enough cost-control pressure on insurance companies, and included the Cadillac tax.
Bill supporters called Lynch’s critiques quibbles against the greater good of the legislation.
“This was clearly a momentous and historic moment. There was no space in the middle. It was, Are you in favor of moving forward or are you against it?” said John McDonough, who had helped craft the 2006 Massachusetts law that provided the template, advised US Senate Democrats, and is now a Harvard University professor. “If he had had his way, the law never would have happened.”
Critics said Lynch had another, unstated reason: Scott Brown had just won the Senate race, campaigning against the health care law, and carrying Lynch’s district. Some speculated he was hedging, with an eye toward a future run against Brown.
“He was trying to be, ‘I’m Scott Brown, with a D next to my name,’ ” said Mac D’Alessandro, who was regional political director for the Service Employees International Union.
D’Alessandro soon decided to challenge Lynch in the Democratic House primary later that year, making the congressman’s health care vote a centerpiece of his campaign. Though unsuccessful, he raised $300,000 and peeled off more than one-third of the vote from the incumbent.
Lynch still maintains that his rejection of the Affordable Care Act had nothing to do with Brown and everything to do with his own concerns that the final version of the legislation cowed too much to insurance industry demands.
“It was like a hostage situation, except in our case not only did we pay the ransom but we also let them keep the hostages, because now [they] have 31 million new customers,” he said.
Reflecting this week on his vote, Lynch said proponents oversold the bill’s do-or-die importance. “A train of thought was going around that this is really the defining point of President Obama’s presidency, and we can’t allow the president to fail, so rally-round-the-flag boys,” Lynch said.
He recalled a long struggle that brought him to his final vote — from a summer vacation spent poring over the original bill text in a swimsuit and flip-flops to impassioned debates with old friends from labor.
In the end, he said, “this bill was not good enough.”
With fewer than eight weeks before the April 30 Senate primary, Lynch does not yet know how much his 2010 vote will weigh in the minds of the party loyalists he’ll need to win over. “I’m not sure,” Lynch said. “We’re going to find out.”
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com.