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Health Care Battle Flares Anew

Correction Appended

President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans have reinvigorated their clash over health care as they fight for the hearts and minds of midterm election voters.

Obama, during a tele-town-hall meeting Tuesday with seniors in Maryland, kicked off a campaign to reverse sagging public opinion on the health care reform bill that he signed into law in March — an effort that the White House hopes will bolster the November prospects of vulnerable Congressional Democrats.

House and Senate Republicans, who implemented a coordinated messaging campaign to attack the health care law immediately after its enactment, responded by highlighting this ongoing effort and rebutting the administration’s sales pitch.

Democrats acknowledged that Obama’s effort is crucial for changing public perception and elevating their political standing.

“There were so many lies told about this health care law, and there is so much confusion about it, that I think every step the White House can take to actually show people what in the real world is happening with it is a very worthy step,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said, adding about the president’s role in helping Democrats: “He’s got the bulliest pulpit we’ve got.”

“I think it’s a dangerous approach because people are really upset out there,” countered Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who in the 1990s collaborated with the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) to create the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. “It’s really almost laughable what they’ve done to the American people. But they’re starting to catch on to it, and they’re getting mad.”

Almost from the moment the health care reform package was signed into law on March 23, Congressional Republicans embarked on a highly coordinated effort to stoke public dissatisfaction with the legislation and shine a light on what GOP Members contend are its negative, unintended consequences.

The House and Senate Republican leadership teams have released dozens of documents to make that case, scheduled floor time for Members to give speeches and coordinated the booking of radio and television appearances. Republican leadership staffers from both chambers continue to meet every week to strategize on health care.

On Tuesday, Republicans moved to pre-empt Obama’s Maryland event before it began. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) focused on health care during his morning floor remarks, while the two GOP Congressional campaign committees blasted press releases to local media around the country. The Republican National Committee hosted an afternoon conference call with Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.), who are both doctors.

“Some of you have written about this major PR campaign to try to make something that’s immensely unpopular popular, including a combination of taxpayer money and privately raised money. And I assume all this is designed to occur before the November election,” McConnell told reporters, referring to a brochure that the administration mailed to millions of seniors touting the benefits of health care reform and to plans by Democratic-leaning advocacy groups to promote the law.

“This level of cynicism is not unheard of in Washington,” McConnell added. “But I find [it] regretful in the willingness to use the levers of government for a purpose that seems to me is highly questionable.”

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