Feb. 12, 2016

As Vote Looms, Interest Groups Intensify Push

The phones will be ringing more than usual in the offices of Democratic lawmakers this week, and radio and TV ads will flood the airwaves.

As the House prepares to vote on massive health care legislation as early as Friday, outside groups on the left and right with deep pockets are going into overdrive to make sure their opinions are heard.

Some lawmakers, however, questioned the effectiveness of last-minute lobbying efforts, complaining they tie up office phones and are coming at a point when Members are already well-versed in the legislation and their constituents’ views.

“People have made up their minds one way or the other,” said Rep. Ron Klein, a Democrat from South Florida who said he will support the health care legislation.

Nevertheless, Klein said his staff had noticed an uptick in the calls and e-mails on health care coming into his office Tuesday.

Richard Kirsch, president of Health Care for America NOW, a coalition of union and community organizations that has been pressing for health care reform, said he didn’t want to take anything for granted in advance of the House vote.

“It is a very intense week,” he said.

HCAN, along with the AFL-CIO, plans to place from 50,000 to 100,000 phone calls to Congressional offices Thursday. HCAN is resuming its advertising campaign, and its grass-roots organizers from around the country also plan to contact every House Democrat’s office.

Kirsch said all of the activity is being aimed at pressing Democrats to support the bill. With House Republicans having made it clear that they will not vote for the health care bill, Kirsch said the attitude has been “why waste our breath” on them.

HCAN has already shelled out $8 million on paid media and plans to spend an additional $4 million to $5 million in the final weeks, Kirsch said.

HCAN, with a paid staff of 140, is financially supported by $500,000 in contributions from its steering committee’s members as well as an $18 million grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies, which was set up by Charles F. Feeney, co-founder of a duty-free shops empire.

MoveOn.org, another well-funded liberal group, also launched new radio spots Tuesday aimed at Senate Democratic moderates whom Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) needs to commence debate on the health care bill.

Reid recently unveiled a plan that includes the public insurance option that has drawn skepticism from moderates in his party.

The ads urge Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, both Democrats, not to side with Republicans and block a vote on health care reform.

Ilyse Hogue, a spokeswoman for MoveOn, said the spots were part of a multimillion-dollar media campaign that eclipsed anything the group had done other than presidential campaigns.

On the other side of the ideological spectrum, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, founded by former hospital magnate Richard Scott, also announced another ad campaign this week.

The $325,000 ad buy, which is playing on Fox and CNN, questions whether the public insurance component will allow people to keep their own doctor and health insurance and won’t lead to rationing of care.

Even though the House is likely to approve the health care bill, Scott still believes the effort can be stopped in the Senate.

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