August Recess: A Breakdown Of The Health Care Fight Ahead

August 3, 2009 11:08 a.m.

If you’ve been paying attention to the political fight over health care reform, you’ve likely heard something or other about the importance of the August recess. Politicians will be making the case for or against reform. Activists will be supporting and opposing them. Interest groups will be muddying the waters in various ways and turning up the heat on members they hope to influence. It can be so confusing!

So here’s what you need to know. Below, I’ve broken down August activities and events by venue. Key politicians, and outside groups, will take to districts and states, newspapers and airwaves, and backroom meetings to influence reform over while Congress is in recess. And you’ll probably have to crawl in a hole for the rest of summer if you want to escape the coming flurry of activity.IN THE FIELD

  • Members of the House and Senate will be hosting town hall events, conducting media availabilities, and meeting with key stakeholders in their districts and across their states. According to a memo sent to House Democrats as they prepared to depart on Friday, “[e]ach week, a national event will be organized to highlight…progress on health insurance reform. Events will range from a Committee field hearing, a DC-based press event, or events in Members’ districts with Leadership or Committee Chairmen.”

    At those events, members will be armed with an index card produced by Speaker Nancy Pelosi–a cheat sheet of sorts to keep them on point about what, specifically, their constituents have to gain from Democratic health care reform efforts.

  • President Obama’s political arm, Organizing for America, will be canvassing and hosting rallies across the country. There are hundreds of events on the calendar, with many yet to be scheduled. Though they’re not quite there yet, OFA will have paid field staff organizers in all 50 states to supplement the work of volunteers and organizers from outside groups.
  • Those outside groups will almost invariably fall under the umbrella of the campaign Health Care for America Now. HCAN has 120 organizers in 44 states–all except for Alabama, Alaska, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Vermont–who will ramp up their efforts significantly in August. They’ll host “thank you events” for members of the three House committees–Education and Labor, Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce–that voted to advance health care legislation, and for those members who’ve tried hardest to prevent the bill from being weakened. Their message will echo the message coming from reform-oriented members, focused on the role the insurance industry has played in fighting reform, and on the many ways reform can benefit not just the uninsured, but the overwhelming majority of constituents. HCAN will target obstructionist members, and fence sitters–some of whom should expect to be bird-dogged by pro-reform activists–and will be pressuring senators to support the Senate HELP committee’s reform bill.
  • These efforts will be countered by the both grassroots and astroturf efforts of reform opponents, including a two-week long, cross-country tour of the Tea Party Express, supported by Our Country Deserves Better PAC. Separately, the well-funded conservative interest group Americans for Prosperity, which has been the font of a great deal of teabagging activity, will be hosting almost daily events–often more than one a day–in key states across the country. On August 22–the same day HCAN plans a major national canvassing effort–expect a co-ordinated nation-wide anti-reform tea party bonanza.
  • That will please industry groups like America’s Health Insurance Plans, who, according to the Wall Street Journal, “has stationed employees in 30 states who are tracking where local lawmakers hold town-hall meetings.”
  • For their part, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will be hosting events at town halls and rallies to kill the public option in five key states: Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina.


If you’ve already tired of all the pro- and anti-reform TV ads, you’re likely to be driven mad this month. Expect more ads, and for those ads to be somewhat harsher. To get a feel for just what to expect, here are some key examples.

  • HCAN, will up its ad buys–which include “thank you” ads, ads encouraging waffling members to support reform, and ads attacking the opposition–and will recycle some old favorites.

  • Their foil–an establishment-friendly voice of reform opposition–is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They recently launched a $2 million print ad buy opposing a tax on employer-sponsored health care benefits.

    They tentatively support the Senate Finance Committee’s slow-moving, bipartisan health care reform negotiations–i.e. a process that does not mandate employer-sponsored health care, and that eschews a public option. But they’ll be continuing their opposition to the other Senate proposal, and the legislation coming together in the House of Representatives.

  • On the anti-reform fringe, but not without their supporters or wealthy funders are groups like Americans for Prosperity, whose offshoot group Patients Untied Now has already run this segment nationwide.

    And it’s these sorts of ads that may do the most damage, simply because they contain the most damaging misinformation. For better or worse reformers don’t have an equal but opposite agit-prop outfit, so they can react to the misinformation, and pull back the veil on the groups fronting it, but that’s about it.


Harder to describe, but at least as important as what goes on in the open is what goes on behind closed doors. Industry groups and pro-reform groups alike will descend upon members to make sure their views are reflected in the final bill. America’s Health Insurance Plans, for instance, is on board with reform, and says so publicly–if somewhat unenthusiastically.

But behind the scenes the group is lobbying to kill the public option. Other industry groups like PhRMA are playing a similar role–part of the White House’s reform coalition, but also fighting to make sure it reflects their interests. In that sense, it’s important to keep an eye on their public statements and activities–a barometer, of sorts, for their level of support, and, by inference, for the shape reform legislation is likely to take in the end.

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