By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009 5:21 PM
House Republicans and Democrats alike plan to aggressively tout their positions on health-care reform over the five-week August recess, as both sides see an opportunity to shift public opinion on the issue before members return to vote on a plan in September.
With the House expected to leave for recess on Friday without passing a final bill, Democratic leaders have urged members to use town halls and other events to get away from the complicated debates on subjects such as a government-insurance option that have resounded in Washington and focus instead on simpler issues, such as telling voters that the legislation will bar insurance companies from denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions.
House Republican leaders have told their members to host events on health care but also on the economic stimulus package passed earlier this year. Party leaders believe they can defeat the Democratic health proposals by connecting them to the $787 billion stimulus package that has not kept unemployment from rising.
"We must remember that now is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator," Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) wrote in a memo distributed this Friday to all Republicans. "The legislative battles we have engaged in over these last several months will be waiting when we return."
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said earlier this week he told a group of 80 Democrats in their first or second terms in Congress that they must "go on the offensive" to tout health-care reform over the next few weeks.
"This is an opportunity to talk about some of the positive aspects of the health-care reform effort and correct misinformation," Van Hollen said.
Recent polls have shown declining support for President Obama on the issue of health care, but both sides believe the public knows relatively little about the health-care legislation Congress is considering, in part because so many different bills exist.
Van Hollen, who for the past several weeks had urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to delay a vote on the health-care bill until after the August recess, said that not having a bill allows Democrats to have a "conversation" with voters and hint that parts of the legislation can still be changed. With three different versions of the legislation in the House and two in the Senate, some Democrats in more conservative areas are likely to distance themselves from controversial parts of the bills, such the provision in one House bill for a tax increase on families earning more than $350,000.
To help them sell the plan, Democrats have given each member a card to take home over recess. The cards are tailored for each member. On one side is the number of the small businesses in their district that will get tax credits, the number of people without insurance who will be covered and other practical data on the impact of the bill. On the other side are talking points, such as emphasizing that under the bill "there is no need to change doctors or plans."
Republicans, armed with a list of statistics detailing the increases in government spending in the first seven months of the Obama administration, have provided their members with copies of a chart GOP leaders have created that depicts a dizzying array of government agencies that would administer the health-care legislation.