Obama plans blitz to boost public opinion of health-care effort

By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2010

President Obama is set to begin an immediate public relations blitz aimed at turning around Americans' opinion of the health-care bill.

Planning inside the West Wing for the post-vote period has proceeded quietly, even as the president and his allies on Capitol Hill were fighting for the measure's passage.

Reshaping the legislation's image will take place in three phases, White House aides said: the immediate aftermath; the seven months until the November midterm elections; and the several years that follow, during which many provisions in the measure will gradually take effect.

Driving the message during those periods is the belief among Obama's top advisers that Republicans have boxed themselves into a corner with unanimous opposition to the legislation and talk of a repeal.

"The Republicans have way overshot the runway in their criticism of health reform," said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Turning up the heat

Demands from conservatives and "tea party" activists that the GOP leadership seek a quick repeal are "not a political winner" for them, a White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans that have not been announced.

Republicans have made clear that they intend to keep the pressure on throughout the election year, using the legislation -- which they contend is highly unpopular almost everywhere -- to batter Democratic officeholders and candidates.

"There's an overwhelming likelihood that every race in the country is going to be a referendum on this issue this fall if this passes," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said last week.

Senate Republicans say they intend to mount a fierce assault on the bill of "changes." If they succeed in killing it, that would leave Democrats with the original Senate legislation, which even many Democratic lawmakers dislike.

If they do not succeed, Republicans plan an almost daily reminder of the tax increases and Medicare cuts in the new law.

"They are either stuck with a group of sweetheart deals in the original Senate bill, or the deals in the reconciliation bill and even more Medicare cuts and tax hikes," said one Republican staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss party strategy.

Conservative talk show hosts and activists are already targeting members and planning protests. And Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a conservative Republican, said he would file a lawsuit challenging the law within hours of its passage.

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