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Democrats Hope to Find Health Care Footing

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Senate Democratic leaders believe they may finally have found a way to get on offense on health care reform.

After struggling to defend health care reform for much of the past two years, Senate Democrats are growing confident that they’ve finally hit on a unifying formula: Attack Republicans for trying to take patients’ rights away and use the GOP’s own lines against them.

So far, at least, it appears to be working. Senate Democrats were able to stick together last week as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) attempt to repeal the health care law went down in a party-line vote.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said last week he hoped that by beating back the repeal effort, Republicans would stand down. And Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) went on the offensive, arguing that Republicans now need to come to the table with specific ideas for improving the law and forget trying to overturn it.

The victory also gave Senate Democrats a chance to put the focus on the benefits they say the law is already providing, such as a new 35 percent tax credit that took effect Jan. 1 for small businesses that buy health insurance and a $250 payment for seniors who entered the “doughnut hole” for prescription drugs.

“How about the free checkups, preventive checkups, that every senior is entitled to once a year that will save billions of dollars in prevention and make seniors healthier? Do Republicans want to repeal that?” Schumer asked at a press conference last week.

Democrats say it’s been much easier for them to come together around a message against the repeal than it was to promote passing the law in the first place. Democrats spent 15 months trying to enact health care reform in the last Congress, and during much of that time they were forced to defend the effort.

“It’s simple. Don’t let them take away your rights, don’t let them put the insurance companies back in charge,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.

“When you talk about taking something away, that resonates with people,” another senior Democratic aide said.

Republicans say the Democratic unity only helps them show the divide between the parties, and they say the law is as unpopular as ever.

“I think the Democrats are still in denial about what the public believes about this,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said at a press conference last week. “The American public made up their minds a long time ago that this bill is a loser.”

“The facts are on our side: It will break our budget, put bureaucrats between patients and their doctors, and slash a half-trillion from Medicare for a new entitlement that we can’t afford,” a senior Senate GOP aide said.

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