Tags: obama | healthcare | gop | defunding | spending | house | senate

Embattled Obama Touts Healthcare As GOP Moves to Defund It

Wednesday, 22 Sep 2010 02:15 PM

President Barack Obama once told Democratic lawmakers they'd be proud to campaign on historic healthcare legislation. Six months later, the only Democrats running ads about it are the ones who voted "no."

Now, with crucial midterm elections approaching, the White House is preparing to use the law's six-month anniversary to reintroduce it to skeptical voters and trumpet new reforms that are taking effect, such as new coverage for preventive care and young adults and a ban on canceling insurance for someone who falls ill.

Democrats are packaging the provisions, which kick in Thursday, as a "Patient's Bill of Rights," and Obama is advertising them Wednesday at an event in Virginia with beneficiaries.

But the GOP will try to block money requested by the Obama administration to implement healthcare reforms in a stopgap spending measure expected to clear Congress next week, The Hill reported Thursday.

Republicans want to send a message to voters that it wants to reduce government spending and provide a check on President Obama.

“The Democrat leadership and the Obama administration once again appear to be hijacking a routine legislative measure to ram through billions in additional spending and political priorities just weeks before the election,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

“How many times do the American people have to say, ‘Enough is enough’ before these Democrat leaders start listening?”

The GOP push is likely the first move in a struggle with the White House over spending in the coming year – an effort that will intensify if Republicans win control of Congress. GOP leaders have signaled they could slow or stall implementation of Democrats’ major reforms by refusing to fund them in appropriations bills after they make expected gains in the midterms, according to The Hill.

The Obama administration has asked appropriators to include roughly $20 billion in new spending in the stopgap measure, according to GOP appropriators.

That request includes $250 million for doctors, nurses, physician assistants and other primary-care health workers. In asking appropriators for the money, the administration said the increase in health workforce funding is needed to meet the demands of the newly insured under the Democrats’ healthcare act.

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a member of Senate GOP leadership, said he’d prefer changing the healthcare law altogether, but short of that, holding up funding is another option.

“If the question is whether to approve money to fund certain parts of the healthcare law, that’s certainly one way to try to limit its impact,” he said.
Senate Republicans haven’t been as hawkish on the continuing resolution; they haven’t ruled out additional provisions.

“Our goal is to keep a continuing resolution as clean as possible at a low number, so we keep spending under control,” Alexander said.

Even supporters acknowledge there's probably not enough time to turn around public opinion on the healthcare issue before November elections that are expected to punish Democrats. But in a campaign season dominated by jobs and the economy, Democrats hope to remind voters of some tangible benefits the healthcare overhaul will bring and move to undercut GOP arguments against it.

"When people better understand the Affordable Care Act, they'll understand, I think, that this isn't something being done to them but is something that's really going to be valuable to them," Obama told community and religious leaders on a conference call Tuesday in which he urged them to spread the word. "The debate in Washington is over. The Affordable Care Act is now law."

The debate on the campaign trail, however, is just heating up. With every House seat and a third of the Senate up for re-election six weeks from now, there are plenty of candidates who are being called to account for their vote in March on the healthcare legislation. And in almost every case the ones on the defensive are Democrats who supported the bill that the GOP branded as a budget-busting government takeover, not Republicans who opposed it.

In Ohio, GOP hopeful Jim Renacci takes aim at freshman Democrat Rep. John Boccieri, among the Democrats elected in Republican-friendly districts now targeted by the GOP. "Boccieri voted for Obama's healthcare bill, packed full of job-killing taxes," a Renacci ad says in an accusation echoed in GOP campaigns across the country.

Boccieri's ads don't mention his healthcare vote; none of the 219 House Democrats who support the legislation are talking about it in campaign ads. But several of the 34 Democrats who voted "no" can now boast of that vote, casting it as a sign of their fiscal responsibility or independence from Obama and party leaders.

In Virginia, an ad for Democratic Rep. Glenn Nye has him "voting against the healthcare bill, because it cost too much."

"The healthcare bill is playing a significant role in a number of campaigns across the country," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The legislation has alienated key demographic groups like seniors and independent voters."

Democrats and the White House play down the significance of the health bill as a campaign issue.

"Healthcare will play a role in individual campaigns, but this is not an election about healthcare," Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, said in an interview. "This is an election about jobs and the economy."

A new AP poll finds just 30 percent of people in favor of and 40 percent opposed to the 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bill to extend health coverage to 32 million uninsured. Another 30 percent were neither in favor nor opposed. But Democrats contend that the numbers have shown gradual improvement and that the Republican message of repeal is losing steam. And they argue that candidates can see political benefit if they focus on individual provisions of the bill that are popular.

"We need to continue to focus on the strong elements of the bill," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "It's very clear it's taken some time to focus on the consumer rights and patient protections."

Among benefits taking effect this week:
  • Young adults can remain on their family's health plan until they turn 26.
  • Free immunizations for kids.
  • Free preventive care, like mammograms and cholesterol screenings.
  • No more lifetime coverage limits, and annual limits start to phase out.
  • Plans can't cancel coverage for people who get sick.
  • No denial of coverage to kids with pre-existing health conditions.

Most of the big changes, such as the new purchasing pools and requirement for everyone to carry insurance, don't kick in until 2014, but Democrats hope that the more voters learn of the benefits, the more they'll like the bill.
Ultimately, Democrats argue, healthcare will be a political winner.

Just maybe not this year.

"I think most of my colleagues on our side of the aisle, whether they voice it publicly or not, certainly see the healthcare vote as a historic vote and something that will be seen in the future as a courageous and correct vote," said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. "That doesn't mean it will be rewarded in this cycle. And that's the pain of this situation."

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President Barack Obama once told Democratic lawmakersthey'd be proud to campaign on historic healthcare legislation. Sixmonths later, the only Democrats running ads about it are the ones whovoted no. Now, with crucial midterm elections approaching, the White House...
Wednesday, 22 Sep 2010 02:15 PM
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