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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.

One Senate Democratic lobbyist said that even though Democrats feel optimistic about their health care message, many were shaken by the recent Florida court ruling declaring the law unconstitutional.

Before the ruling, the lobbyist said Democrats “felt like they were gaining the upper hand on selling the bill, everything the Republicans were doing on repeal was actually starting to bite them a little bit because it was giving Democrats an opportunity to talk about what was good in the bill.”

The lobbyist also said there is frustration among rank-and-file Senators that McConnell appears to be able to dictate the agenda.

“I’m not sure Democrats have gotten over November,” the lobbyist said. “They feel like they have to play defense constantly, so they are just kind of trying to put their heads down and get their work done.”

And the Senate GOP isn’t going to let up. On Friday, Republicans introduced a bill that would put a moratorium on implementing the law while court challenges are under way.

McConnell also said last week there would be more votes on items such as allowing states to opt out of the law and an attempt to kill the individual mandate, which requires people to buy insurance. And those votes — which appear all but guaranteed at some point later this year given the gentlemen’s agreement on amendments between McConnell and Reid — won’t be as easy for Democrats to stay together on.

Moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), have already signaled their desire to make changes, and Republicans are eyeing the 23 Democratic seats up next year for converts.

Democrats, however, argue that as time passes, repeal fervor will wane as the benefits begin taking hold and what Schumer called the “parade of horribles” used to attack the health care law fails to materialize.

And they plan to coordinate with the White House as they roll out statistics in the coming months on the number of people and businesses benefiting from the new law, including the thousands of businesses taking advantage of the new tax credit.

But the overarching message coming out of the White House and Hill Democrats is to try to turn the page, and they are using a GOP line from 2009 to do it: Why are they focusing on health care instead of jobs?

“The American people told us focus on jobs, the economy and the middle class,” Schumer said. “We’re doing it, they’re back trying to turn back the pages of history and not focusing on what the average voter wants us to focus on.”

But Republicans say that argument falls flat. They point to opposition from business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, which says the law’s regulatory and tax burdens have hurt job growth.

McConnell said the business leaders he talks to all say the health care law has slowed hiring.

In the meantime, Democrats said that if Republicans start putting up a lot of political votes on health care, they are prepared to retaliate with votes on some of the popular provisions in the law as well.

“We’re ready for what comes,” the first Democratic aide said. “There’s a bunch of Democrats that are ready to go blow for blow.”

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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