Health Care Reform Win Jumpstarts 2010 Campaigning

Now that House Democrats have passed sweeping health care legislation that’s poised to become law within a matter of days, the Democrats and Republicans are positioning themselves firmly on opposites sides of the reform battle in preparation for the next face-off: November.

With both political parties staking the 2010 elections on health care legislation, it’s worth looking back and see who took a gamble on pushing the reform fight month in and month out. Democrats have taken a pounding for the long focus on health care, but feel confident voters will be happy with the legislation they finally delivered after months of compromise and negotiations. Eager Republicans think they can convince Americans the bill will bankrupt the nation and cuts Medicare and Medicaid, and that health care reform has so badly wounded the majority party and President Obama that the Dems will lose control of the House this fall.

The midterm elections are a political eternity from now, and the health care bill isn’t yet law. But, in the last year, interest groups have spent millions on advertising and activists have dialed Congressional offices millions of times, all in an attempt to shape and influence health care legislation. TPMDC took a look at how much time – and political capital – have been expended on health care.Administration officials say Obama won’t let up, and he’s taking the sales pitch on the road right away. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced today that Obama will return “to the city where the grassroots campaign for health insurance reform started in May 2007” on Thursday with a visit to Iowa City.

Obama claimed in a speech Friday he doesn’t know if signing health care reform legislation will help him politically, even though his own administration operatives have told reporters they are confident his poll numbers, and those of Congress, would go up right away. On Saturday he told House Democrats he knew that they would also score a political win if they approve the new policy.

“I know this is a tough vote. And I am actually confident — I’ve talked to some of you individually — that it will end up being the smart thing to do politically because I believe that good policy is good politics,” Obama said.

“I am convinced that when you go out there and you are standing tall and you are saying I believe that this is the right thing to do for my constituents and the right thing to do for America, that ultimately the truth will out,” he said.

Obama has delivered 54 speeches on health care, according to CBS News’ longtime White House correspondent Mark Knoller. Obama’s first health care address was in March 2007, and was followed by events in 12 states – some more than once – and 13 Saturday radio and Internet addresses on the topic.

Obama’s political arm Organizing for America (OFA) made nearly 500,000 calls to Congress over the last 10 days, coupled with 324,000 letters to members and more than 1 million personalized text messages. Since June 09, OFA (house at the Democratic National Committee) has made more than 1.5 million calls in total. They hosted more than 30,000 health care events in every single Congressional district.

OFA claims that their calls influenced Rep. Brian Baird to switch from a “no” to “yes” vote on health care. As we detailed this weekend, Baird (D-WA) had 3,018 calls on Friday in his district office. Of the calls coming from constituents in the district, 57 percent were for the bill. An OFA spokeswoman said the group was responsible for at least 595 of those in-district, pro-reform calls on Friday alone and argued that without the group, the totals would have been dramatically different.

The spokeswoman said OFA was strategic in approaching the calls, learning about each member’s concern and their district demographics to plot out how to lobby the lawmaker to support health care before making a single call.

Republicans operatives said in recent weeks they see a big win in their future thanks to the long fight, and especially due to the intraparty battle Democrats had about including the public option in the legislation.

A poll conducted March 9 through March 11 of 1,200 likely voters by the Republican National Committee’s pollster OnMessage shows 55 percent of likely voters have a somewhat or very unfavorable view of Obama’s handling of health care reform. Voters who identify as independents make up 20 percent of the group surveyed, and 59 percent of them have an unfavorable impression of Obama’s efforts on health care.

The Republican poll finds that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a soaring unfavorables, with voters increasingly knowing who she is and disapproving of her performance. For that reason, the GOP is likely to attach Pelosi’s name to as much of their anti-health care campaign literature as possible.

The poll data, outlined for reporters at an RNC background briefing last week, suggested to Republicans that Democrats won’t excite their base by passing the measure, in part because of the long slog to get it passed.

Republicans revealed how they will campaign against health care – in addition to potentially saying they would repeal the measure – by saying it contains elements that polls show voters don’t like. They will say the legislation is “cutting Medicare too much” and is only about “raising taxes,” without outlining the reforms included in the plan that are popular. They will highlight the special deals in the Senate bill – without noting those will be removed in the budget reconciliation package making changes to the Senate bill.

Case in point: Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), running for an open Senate seat, used the vote to fundraise this morning. “The bill the Nancy Pelosi Democrats crammed down our throats cuts Medicare for seniors by $523.5 billion; raises job-killing taxes by $569.2 billion; fails to protect TRICARE for veterans, military retirees and their families; forces the IRS to 16,500 new government employees to enforce the new taxes; and includes the scandalous deal-making used to pass the bill including the Louisiana Purchase, Cornhusker Kickback and Gator-Aid,” Blunt writes supporters in an email.

He adds that, “I’ll keep working to repeal this colossal government takeover of healthcare,” and asks for donations.

Democrats, of course, will do the opposite, campaigning on ending the practice of insurance discrimination for preexisting conditions and subsidies to help people afford insurance.