March 22, 2014, 03:36 pm
Dems ramp-up offense on ObamaCare
By Justin Sink and Elise Viebeck
The White House and congressional Democrats are ramping up a coordinated effort to celebrate ObamaCare’s fourth anniversary this weekend, looking to go “on offense” ahead of the final week of open enrollment.
The effort includes a social media campaign by members of Congress and administration officials, enrollment events featuring lawmakers and Senate floor speeches marking the four-year anniversary.
The tightly coordinated final push was the result of work between the White House and House and Senate “healthcare strike teams,” which were created in the aftermath of the botched ObamaCare rollout to push back against a flood of bad headlines.
The White House has provided members of Congress with packets that detail state-by-state benefits of the law, and what the cost of repeal would mean for constituents within their districts. A White House official says the data can be used to “amplify” the new effort ahead of the March 31 deadline.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also provided members with data and sample language for members to use on new Medicare drug savings data.
Federal health officials reported Friday that nearly 8 million seniors have saved $9.9 billion on medication since ObamaCare's passage, a message Democrats hope their candidates will use on the campaign trail.
President Obama and other senior administration officials will mark the anniversary through efforts to highlight the individual stories of consumers who say their families have benefited from the Affordable Care Act.
White House staffers will also tweet a series of six graphics highlighting provisions of the law that eliminate lifetime limits, prohibit denial of coverage because of pre-existing conditions, and mandate free birth control and mammograms, among others.
The graphics feature an image of the president's signature on the ObamaCare bill, in a nod to the March 23 anniversary.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate will also push graphics pushing the healthcare law on their social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. House and Senate members will use the hashtag #healthcare4all to coordinate their messaging.
Senate Democrats, who have spent recent weeks on the defensive as polling suggests the Affordable Care Act is damaging their chances to retain a majority, will organize their events around the theme “before and after the ACA,” according to a Senate aide.
“For a long time it was frankly just the White House pushing the positive aspects of this,” said an aide.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has spearheaded the effort in the Senate, appeared on a call with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) hosted by the Center for American Progress on Friday. The lawmakers argued that it was possible to run on — and win — by touting the benefits of ObamaCare.
“Now that the ACA is working, now that we've gotten beyond those early months, we have a really good story to tell,” said Murphy.
“The election isn't tomorrow,” Boxer added. “We had a terrible rollout. It slowed us up. But it's falling into place now. The Republican answer is, let's repeal it and take away these benefits from people. That’s going to be very bad for them at the end of the day.”
The Democratic National Committee also released a memo saying they were “ready - and eager - to have” a debate over the health care law.
“All signs point to Republicans running against ObamaCare again in 2014,” wrote DNC communications director Mo Elleithee. “But this year will be a little different – for the first time they are running to take away benefits that virtually every American who has health care is benefiting from.”
The Democrats’ effort kicked off Thursday with a press conference by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who defended ObamaCare as a “winner” for her party this year.
Both Pelosi and her deputy, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), pushed back on predictions that premiums will rise substantially next year due to few young, healthy enrollees and other problems with the rollout.
“You have to compare what premiums are in the Affordable Care Act to what they otherwise would be,” Van Hollen said. “That's the real question here.”
The premiums question is likely to haunt Democratic candidates this year. State insurance officials will make the 2015 marketplace rates public this summer, and even if they're mostly positive, any bad anecdotes will create attack fodder for Republicans.
In the meantime, opposition to the healthcare law remains near its all-time high, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center. Fifty-three percent now disapprove of the law compared with 41 percent who say they approve.
Pew also found that Latinos are increasingly skeptical of the Affordable Care Act, a law they used to support in strong numbers. Hispanics, a group the administration has targeted with special healthcare outreach, are now split 47-47 on the reform law.
Republicans maintain they’re more than happy to keep the ObamaCare anniversary in the news, for just that reason.
“Every anniversary that comes up, there's a gift that goes with it. For the fourth anniversary, it's traditionally flowers. I think the gift from President Obama with ObamaCare to Democrat candidates is not a dozen roses but rather a bunch of prickly pear cactus that they're not going to want to embrace,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) told reporters on a conference call.
Still, surveys indicate there are some ways Democrats may be able to reclaim the narrative on healthcare over the next eight months.
There is a strong sense within the public, for example, that elected officials should try to make the law work as well as possible.
This sentiment is held even by a majority of ObamaCare's opponents, and it could be a good sign for Democrats' narrative that Republicans are merely out to sabotage ObamaCare.
“Never have I seen a law that is helping so many people be so vilified,” Boxer said Friday. “The Republicans are still bragging about the 54 votes they have taken to repeal the Affordable Care Act.”