Republican leaders return to Washington, D.C., this week hoping to capitalize on the negative public attitude toward the newly passed health care law, reprising the themes they used to attack the economic stimulus last year.
The strategy is part of a broader GOP economic message to characterize the Democratic agenda as a series of increases to the debt and expansions of government, GOP aides said.
Republicans spent the last year pointing to the nation's high levels of unemployment as evidence that the $787 billion stimulus bill passed in February 2009 did nothing to reinvigorate the sluggish economy.
The stimulus bill, like the health care reform bill, received no House Republican votes.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), said that while the stimulus bill was relatively popular when it passed in early 2009, the health care bill has not enjoyed broad-based support.
He predicted the public view toward the Democratic health care reforms would only worsen as the law began to be implemented.
Democrats are "hoping the American people — whose opposition to ObamaCare is still growing — will forget, but they won't," he said in an e-mail.
Steel said the popularity of the stimulus package dropped over time.
"When Washington Democrats passed the trillion-dollar stimulus' they promised it would keep unemployment below eight percent and create jobs immediately,'" Steel said. "Today, unemployment is near ten percent, three million more Americans have lost their jobs, and more people believe Elvis is alive than believe the stimulus' created jobs."
A senior Senate aide said the health care law was the largest example of a government takeover that has been adopted by the Obama administration but said it would not be the only issue used to illustrate the GOP message of "government gone wild."
The health care law "will be one more element to the big-picture message," the aide said.
"The stimulus is like health care in that it is another example of what [Americans] don't like," the aide said.
Over the two-week recess, House Republicans were advised by leaders to talk about their intention to repeal the newly passed law if they retake the House in November.
"When you get home ... remind your constituents that when it mattered most, you stood with them against a government takeover of health care," House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) wrote in the district work period packet distributed to Members.
"This is not over," he added.
In addition to encouraging Members to talk to their constituents and local media outlets during the recess, the House Republican Conference began sending a series of daily e-mails titled "ObamaCare Flatlines" to point out areas of the law that, they say, have already harmed the economy.
"ObamaCare Flatlines is just another way that we draw attention to the damaging effects of the president's government takeover of health care," Mary Vought, a spokeswoman for Pence, said in an e-mail. "The House Republican Conference will send out this product as long as we continue to find provisions in the law that harm Americans, so I imagine that will be for awhile."
Doug Thornell, a spokesman for Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.), said Republicans were simply looking to score cheap political points by spreading "misinformation" about the health care reform law.
"From the beginning of this Congress, the GOP has been more concerned with repairing their party and appealing to extremists than helping us get America moving again," he said. "It's a sad commentary for the party of Reagan that they now have become so pessimistic and negative."
The senior Senate aide said that after the bill was signed into law, some Republicans were hesitant to criticize the health care reform package initially, fearing public backlash.
But any uncertainty about their message was dispelled as Republicans watched the negative receptions several Democrats received upon returning to their districts, the aide said.
Internal polling has also reaffirmed Republican beliefs that the American people have a dim view of the health care bill.
In an unreleased March survey by the Winston Group distributed to Congressional Republicans, respondents were asked whether they cared more about lowering the unemployment rate or the number of people uninsured, and 82 percent of respondents said reducing the number of unemployed was more important.
The poll, conducted March 23-24 — just after the final version of the bill passed the House — also reported that 62 percent said protecting the quality of their health care was more important than reducing the rate of uninsured.
John Feehery, president of the Feehery Group and a former Republican leadership staffer, said the Republican message was right on target.
"There is no way that this health care plan will be popular with most Americans," Feehery said. "They should keep hammering on that and on the debt. The economy is coming back, but that is not because of the actions of the Obama administration. That is happening despite the actions of the Obama administration."