Won’t Get Fooled Again: Dems Aim To Get Health Care Messaging Straight

Congressional Democrats have acknowledged privately one reason health care hasn’t passed yet is that they lost control of the message sometime last year, and they say they aren’t about to let that happen again now that they see the finish line.

They say the angry town halls of August – when members in most cases didn’t have a plan to defend, or couldn’t get talking points together in the face of heated criticism nationwide – won’t be repeated if they get the messaging straight.

Overall they blame themselves for not moving quickly. The House blames the Senate for dilly-dallying in the Finance Committee to try and win Republican votes. The Senate blames the White House and President Obama for not giving them more direction or a specific bill early in the process.That’s one reason the momentum has shifted to actually getting health care done now that Obama has put his own stamp on a plan.

Now they promise a clear, coordinated message that includes direct response to Republicans who complain about reconciliation using facts and figures of how often the GOP used the legislative tactic when they were in power.

Another large problem for Democrats up to now has been the polling – repeatedly they see surveys showing the American people oppose the health care plan working its way through the chambers of Congress, but people tell pollsters they like the individual components of the plan.

After spending months scratching their head as to why that is (and how the president as the nation’s best orator wasn’t able to effectively communicate what is in the health care bill) Democrats now are laser-focused on telling voters what’s in the bill. They say that if they campaign on its benefits they will stave off massive losses during this fall’s midterm elections.

On Tuesday Senate Democrats spoke during their weekly party lunch about the importance of explaining to people with insurance why reform is important for them, too.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) told TPMDC in an interview one discussion point was a “stunning” statistic about how the majority of bankruptcies are related to health care expenses and the majority of those are filed by people who have health insurance.

He said people ask lawmakers all the time why they should be interested in reform if they have insurance and that Democrats need to make it clearer as to why reform matters for everyone.

“This is a security issue for people who have insurance,” Levin said.

The messaging also goes to how much bipartisanship and transparency has been at work in the health care fight. In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Committee Chairmen Henry Waxman, George Miller and Charlie Rangel detail the statistics of how open their health care legislative process actually was.

More than 121 amendments from both Democrats and Republicans were included in the bill, they boast in the letter, obtained by TPMDC. The chairmen also note how long the House bill in both its draft and final forms was posted online for public input, a direct counter to GOP claims the measure was crafted behind closed doors.

Waxman (D-CA), Miller (D-CA) and Rangel (D-NY) also write Pelosi that the reconciliation process was used five times in eight years on major policy initiatives such as the Bush tax cuts under a Republican Congress. This is another talking point the Democrats will have at the ready since the GOP already has signaled they will complain about this legislative technique, which appears to be the likely health care end game.

As a case in point for how the GOP is attempting to use procedure to wound Democrats, last week Rep. Steve King went after reconciliation in an interview. King (R-IA) told us that his prediction is reconciliation will cause Americans to take to the streets, never mind that he supported using it in the Bush era.

Additional reporting by Brian Beutler