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Democrats Prepare for Battle

President Barack Obama and Democratic Congressional leaders today will attempt to hit the restart button on health care reform as they put into action an aggressive campaign to change the debate and restore public confidence in their leadership.

The battle will begin in earnest on Wednesday evening, when Obama goes before a joint session of Congress to launch his opening salvo on his No. 1 domestic priority. Congressional Democrats are expected to follow the president’s lead in the coming weeks and months, with the Republicans’ opposition strategy also likely to turn on his remarks — at least initially.

“The president is our best messenger,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said late last week. “If he really is going to take the reins of this, you’ll see a lot of amplification of that. You’ll see Senate Democrats rally around the president.”

Democratic strategists expect Obama to use his speech to re-emphasize the need for legislation to overhaul the health insurance industry by arguing that Americans who are satisfied with their coverage shouldn’t be. Obama, sources say, will warn Americans that their insurance might be denied the next time they make a claim — based on a pre-existing condition or caps on the amount of coverage available for a chronic illness.

In addition to any new health care themes and policy proposals that Obama introduces Wednesday night, Democrats intend to continue making the case for health “insurance” reform, as opposed to health “care” reform. Democrats decided to switch strategies in July after their initial message — one that focused on health care coverage for the millions of uninsured — fell flat. Democrats have since been focusing the debate more squarely on the insurance industry and the coverage it provides.

Obama and the Democrats will look to paint Republicans and others opposed to their health care proposals as supporters of the “status quo” who are backing the insurance companies at the expense of the American people. To make this case and try to rally its troops on Capitol Hill, the White House last week released a memo by Obama pollster Joel Benenson claiming that “by large margins, the American people support major reforms to the health care system.”

“We don’t want to spend too much time on defense,” said the senior Democratic Senate aide. “But we need to go after some of the more egregious lies perpetrated by Republicans over the recess.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a moderate whose vote could prove crucial as Obama and Congressional leaders try to cobble together 60 votes to pass health care reform out of the Senate, said more must be done by his party’s leadership to push a bill across the finish line. Warner on Thursday evening spent much of his 90-minute town hall meeting in Fredricksburg, Va., defending the effort to reform health care before the approximately 1,500 participants at the event.

“I wish there would have been more time spent on the front end of this debate explaining the financial ramifications of the status quo,” Warner told reporters following the town hall. Referencing Obama’s Wednesday evening speech, he added: “I think he does need to continue to make the case of how this effort is going to help the 85 percent of Americans who’ve already got health care coverage.”

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