In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Health Care Law Still A Liability For Vulnerable Dems

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Newscom / Douglas Graham

Thursday in the Capitol, the House's top three Dems -- Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn -- celebrated the law's two-year anniversary among a room full of friendly visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Some of them spoke out in its favor -- a senior citizen was thankful the ACA closed the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage; a small business owner said the law is benefiting his employees and a mother was grateful that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to her son, who was born with a lifelong ailment.

Despite all the benefits that their constituents will enjoy, Democrats in vulnerable or swing districts have steered clear of these events and are careful not to be seen touting their votes for the Affordable Care Act. Part of this is structural: Most vulnerable House Democratic supporters of the health care law were wiped out in the 2010 midterm.

But the story's different in the Senate. One Democrat in a tough Senate race defended her vote by likening the law to the Paul Ryan plan that liberals detest.

Polls continue to reflect that Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act by comfortable margins. That's partly due to widespread confusion over what the law does -- surveys show that the more people are accurately informed of its components, the more they tend to like it. Regardless, thanks to a dedicated Republican messaging blitz that began well before the law passed, Dems in tough races want to keep their distance.

And Republicans continue to aggressively tar the law, eager to run against it in the 2012 elections.

The history of social programs -- including Medicare and Social Security -- is that the public warms up to them over time after the benefits kick in and make the scare stories about big government seem less relevant to their lives. So over the long term, Dems are likely in the clear -- as long as they're able to hold enough sway in Congress and the White House to make sure Republicans don't repeal or dismantle its key components.

But despite the Dems' anniversary media blitz, the law's still a near-term political liability for some in the party. Indeed, the media blitz subtly reveals that.

About The Author

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Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.