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GOP Strategists Seek to Alter the Health Care Reform Debate

Fundamentally, Republicans believe that while the Obama White House has been politically astute in promising that people happy with their current health care plan can keep it and that any new program won’t add to the deficit or require a major tax increase, the Obama plan will result in nothing less than government takeover of health care.

And Republicans think that time is on their side, which is why the Castellanos memo insists it is crucial for Republicans to slow down what it calls “the Obama experiment with our health.”

“Even voters who support a ‘public plan’ think Obama and Congress are moving too fast, with reckless speed, risking a huge part of our economy and our health care, when they don’t know what reform would really bring,” the memo says. “If we slow this sausage-making process down, we can defeat it, and advance real reform that will actually help.”

The memo comes at a time when Congressional Democratic leaders are giving conflicting signs about what kind of legislative package they could eventually support.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has praised Baucus’ efforts to strike a bipartisan deal, even signaling that he might support a plan that does not include a government-run insurance option. House Blue Dogs also continue to be uncomfortable with aspects of the House leadership’s approach.

Meanwhile, House committee chairmen are emphasizing that they haven’t bought into any deal that may be worked out in the Senate, and liberal grass-roots groups are already warning that a final bill that doesn’t include a public insurance option is unacceptable.

After months of media coverage of bank and automobile company bailouts, of stimulus spending and of growing deficits, says one Republican operative, voters seem less inclined to trust anyone — including a personally popular president, even on health care.

If Republicans can successfully convince Americans that they have a significant health care reform agenda that addresses exploding costs and protects both the quality of care and patient rights, yet doesn’t add to the deficit, require higher taxes or turn over control to government bureaucrats, they will only add to Democrats’ problems in producing a bill that can pass both chambers of Congress.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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