Democrats mount new sales pitch for health-care law
SEEK TO PARRY REPEAL EFFORT
Party official calls it a ‘bring-it-on moment’
The debate over repealing the landmark health-care overhaul offers Democrats something rare in politics: a do-over.
Democrats, who were widely perceived to have blown the political messaging over President Obama’s signature law, are revving up for a campaign-style offensive in an attempt to get it right the second time around.
Inthe run-up to a House vote on repeal — originally scheduled for Wednesday but delayed after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and others in Tucson on Saturday — Democrats are staging news conferences and rallies outside the district offices of nearly 70 targeted Republican House members, many of whom were elected in districts Obama carried in his 2008 race.
The White House has set up a rapid-response operation and was planning to deploy Cabinet secretaries this week to make the Democrats’ case in newspaper editorials, on the radio and in satellite interviews with local television stations.
Party officials said they will also showcase regular folks who have benefited from the health-care law — such as those younger than 26 who are now able to stay on their parents’ insurance plans and people with preexisting conditions who can now get coverage — in local and national media to “put a face” on popular provisions.
“It’s not often you get a second chance to make a first impression, but [Republicans] are giving that right to us,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Right now, people don’t realize all the good things in the bill. The more we have an opportunity to talk about them, fewer and fewer people are going to be for repeal.”
The first time around
As the bill was being crafted in 2009 and 2010, opponents seemed to gain the upper hand with their political message. Activists dressed down Democratic congressmen at their town hall meetings. They staged hands-off-my-health-care rallies. They dubbed the overhaul “Obamacare.”
Opposition to the bill helped propel Republicans to the majority in the House, and their effort to repeal it will fulfill a campaign promise and tea party priority. They scheduled a vote for Wednesday on a measure called “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.” In the likely event the effort fails to pass the Democrat controlled Senate, House Republican leaders say they will keep whacking at the law piece by piece until it crumbles.
“We’re listening to the American people,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters Thursday. “ They want this bill repealed, and we are going to repeal it. And we’re going to do everything we can over the course of however long it takes to stop this because it will ruin the best health-care system in the world, it will bankrupt our nation and it will ruin our economy.”
Republican strategists say convincing a majority of Americans they are better off with the healthcare law than without it will be a high hill for Democrats to climb.
“The fundamental problem for the Democrats is that the bill as a whole is widely perceived to raise health-care costs, raise health-insurance-premiums, increase taxes, increase the deficit and hurt the quality of care,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. “ That’s a five-count indictment that creates major public opinion problems for the health-care reform bill that the Democrats passed.”
Public opinion on the law has long been divided. A December poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 42 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of it and 41 percent an unfavorable one. One in four respondents wants to repeal the law in its entirety, while another one in four wants to repeal parts of the law and keep other parts. The remainder wants to leave the law as is or expand it.
Public polling has shown certain provisions of the law are more popular than others. Tax credits to small businesses, gradually closing the Medicare “doughnut hole,” and prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions have had overwhelming support.
One of the most unpopular provisions, the requirement that individuals get health insurance or face penalties, is key to the entire overhaul. In a post-election Kaiser poll, nearly seven in 10 said they thought the individual mandate should be repealed.
But after losing their majority in the House and seeing it shrink in the Senate, Democrats believe they are risking little by fighting to protect a controversial law that is likely to help shape Obama’s bid for reelection in 2012.
A ‘simpler’ argument
“ The Republicans are making a big mistake,” Democratic National Committee Chairman Timothy M. Kaine said in an interview. “We’re not going to let them do this quietly. . . . We’re clearly going to spend an awful lot of time talking about how their repeal of health care will take away fleshand-blood benefits that Americans are receiving.”
Kaine’s spokesman was more direct. “ They’re totally walking into our talking points,” Brad Woodhouse said. “It’s a bring-it-on moment.”
White House officials met last week with leaders of key constituency groups — including organizations representing women, patients, senior citizens, labor and faith-based interests — as well as Democratic governors, mayors and television pundits, to discuss talking points.
“ There’s a real sense of enthusiasm for the fight here,” said a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss internal plans. “Everything’s turned on its head. The communications around this have been a challenge from the beginning; it’s a complicated bill. But the fact of the matter is, every week that goes by with more of these provisions kicking in, it becomes simpler.”
By coordinating surrogate media appearances, Woodhouse said, Democrats plan to force Republicans to “ look Mary Sue in the eye and say, ‘I’m sorry you weren’t getting health care before because of a preexisting condition, and you’re getting it now, but I’m going to take it away from you because I’m so ideologically opposed to this president.’ ”
Their efforts maybe futile in the House; with Republicans now owning a 242-to-193 majority, the repeal measure is likely to sail through. But the bill’s chances of passage in the Senate are far slimmer, and if it somehow makes it out of that chamber, the White House has already said the president would veto it.