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Democrats eagerly seeking signs of success with health-care law

Senate Democrats are being urged to find examples of health-care-law success stories during their Thanksgiving break. (Evan Vucci/AP)

The political battle over the future of the national health-care law is about to become a media faceoff between Republican accounts of mishap and failure vs. Democratic stories that hint at eventual success.

In a pre-Thanksgiving messaging memo, Democratic senators are being urged to use the holiday break to find success stories and “aggressively publicize them so that people can see the law is delivering on its promise.” The memo was prepared and distributed by the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, the Senate Democrats’ political messaging operation.

Also in recent days, Senate Republicans have been urging their members to tout new “Your Story” Web pages in English and Spanish that invite people to vent about the shortcomings of the health-insurance initiative.

Republicans have been capi­tal­izing on the disastrous launch of the federal Web site that is the centerpiece of the law’s implementation, using its setbacks as a weapon against President Obama and Democrats.

Acknowledging the pressure from that political fallout, Democrats are making a concerted effort to find people and places the law is working for in an effort to counter GOP attacks. Top Senate Democrats began asking rank-and-file senators this week to use the Thanksgiving recess to identify constituents benefiting from the law, in hopes of exploiting those examples when the Senate reconvenes in two weeks.

The political blowback from the troubled launch of the federal Web site has been especially concerning to Senate Democrats, who have been divided on how to deal with the implementation missteps. In addition to the functionality troubles of, millions of Americans have been getting cancellation notices about current health plans that fail to meet new standards set by the law. Those notices are a direct contradiction of the promise Obama made as the law was being debated in Congress and the country; he repeatedly said that people who liked the health insurance they had could keep it. The cancellations have been a political boon to Republicans.

As a counter, Democratic senators are being asked to use social media — especially the Twitter call-out #GotCovered — new “Got Covered Today” sections of their Web sites and specialized e-mail addresses to highlight people who “had a positive experience” enrolling for new health plans.

Any new success stories “will provide us with the ammunition we need to rebut Republican claims that the law isn’t working,” the memo said.

The effectiveness of this approach is an open proposition and in some ways exposes the divisions among Democrats about how to deal with the problem.

One senior Democratic aide familiar with the plan said that new push was needed because the White House was failing to tout the law’s early successes. “Democrats expected the White House to be more aggressive in promoting positive stories surrounding the Affordable Care Act, but that effort hasn’t gotten off the ground,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan and requested anonymity. “Congressional Democrats are recognizing they need to fill that gap.”

The Democratic game plan is a modified version of the multimedia strategy employed by Republicans for several weeks. It began in earnest with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who used his 21-hour, filibuster-like speech on the Senate floor in late September to solicit concerns about the health-care law via Twitter and his Web site. Within hours, Cruz began reading tales of woe for the Congressional Record.

Days later, during a swing through Iowa, Cruz invited people to visit his campaign Web site to submit similar concerns about the new law.

Back in Washington, Republican House and Senate leaders also began asking rank-and-file lawmakers to begin archiving examples of failures on their official government Web sites.

In talking points sent to House Republicans, top aides included links and coding for a “Share Your Obamacare Story” graphic that can be displayed on lawmakers’ Web sites.

Especially powerful examples of people struggling with the new law are likely to be used as fodder for news conferences, House and Senate floor speeches and anecdotes in television and radio interviews.

In a recent interview, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) said that he was using the strategy to identify constituents set to lose coverage or doctors forced to part ways with patients.

“I think there’s going to be a continuing litany of issues that are going to arise and it has created a lot of disturbance in peoples’ lives,” he said. Asked whether his office was seeking out people who are benefiting from the new law, Meehan paused. “Sure . . . A bunch of people pick up and say they want me to support this,” he said. “But you hear more passion in the people who have been impacted.”

Republicans seem so confident that the messaging is working that they are using the new law — and the widely used “Obamacare” moniker — as a political albatross against Democrats.

Last week, after Senate Democrats voted to change the Senate’s procedural rules regarding most presidential nominations, Republicans began comparing the move to passage of the health-care law.

“It’s an effort to change the dialogue from Obamacare, but it’s really Obamacare number two,” said Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.). “Obamacare was passed really with all Democrat votes. This action to change the rule, again — majority party — all Democrat votes.”

As Hoeven spoke to reporters outside the chamber, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) was on the Senate floor blasting the rules change in front of a placard that read, “Obamacare 2.0.”

Republicans are also hoping to use the health law’s troubles to explain myriad Washington sins. “The health-care discussion has taken the oxygen out of the room on all the issues,” said Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.). “We’ve been entirely focused in the last two months on the problems with the president’s health-care plan, and it’s taken [away] much-needed time to address other important issues.”

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.


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