Democrats mount new sales pitch for health-care law


The Washington Post Sunday - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY PHILIP RUCKER ruck­erp@wash­

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.

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