Health-care law supporters tap Democratic strategist to defend it

President Barack Obama says he's open to efforts to "tweak'' his health care overhaul, but will not stand by while Republicans try to take it apart. Obama spoke to the consumer advocacy group Families USA, which strongly supports the new law. (Jan. 28)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 8, 2011; 12:29 AM

Supporters of the new health-care law have tapped a top Democratic strategist to help defend it against Republican criticism as they settle in for what many expect will be a protracted battle to shape the public's view of the law through the 2012 elections and beyond.

"There's a growing recognition that with respect to this big health-care reform legislation there's no such thing as a final victory or a final defeat," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumer lobby Families USA, one of the groups behind the effort. "The Republicans are intent on making this a multi-year effort and those of us who strongly support the legislation must meet that challenge. . . . We feel we've got to come together in a much more systematic fashion."

The initiative is being headed by Paul Tewes, a political consultant who directed field operations in key states for President Obama's campaign.

Two other Democratic campaign veterans, Tanya Bjork and David Di Martino, have joined the team, according to sources involved with the planning. They expect to open an office in Washington within the next few weeks; it will have about 10 staffers from the dozen or so advocacy groups that are part of the coalition.

Organizers declined to say how the project will be funded. And while they said they will operate independently of the White House and Democrats in Congress, they have yet to determine how much they will be in communication with them.

While the campaign is largely centered on preventing further Republican gains at the polls in 2012, there is also another audience: the justices of the Supreme Court, who are widely expected to weigh in on at least one of 20 pending lawsuits contesting the law's constitutionality by the spring of 2012.

"Judges happen to be human beings," Pollack said. "Even if they say otherwise, how the public views the issues that are in front of them impacts them."

Other groups involved include Health Care for America Now, the Health Information Center, the Center for American Progress and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The endeavor comes as months of attacks and counter-attacks from both sides have been remarkably unsuccessful at moving public opinion.

Since the law's adoption last March, groups opposed to it have spent about $100 million on television ads and other efforts to defeat it.

Officials in 28 states - all but one of them a Republican - have joined the legal challenges against the law. And they already had netted two rulings by federal district court judges invalidating all or part of the statute. (Two other judges have upheld it.)

Republicans also made a repeal vote their first order of business on taking control of the House of Representatives last month. They now are holding committee hearings virtually every week to lambast particular aspects of the law.

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