Democrats mount second sales pitch on health-care law as Republicans seek repeal

Republicans have announced the first item on their agenda, which is to repeal the Obama administration's health care overhaul bill passed last year.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 8, 2011; 10:13 PM

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.

In the 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 in an interview. "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 health-care 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.

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