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Democrats Offer New Argument on Health Care Act

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
"When I talk to people about getting rid of discrimination because of pre-existing conditions" and other benefits, "then it's overwhelming approval," House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said.

As the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act approaches, along with Supreme Court arguments on its constitutionality, some Democrats are aggressively defending the law, essentially daring Republicans to repeal President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.

The House will vote today on whether to repeal a provision of the health care law that established an Independent Payment Advisory Board, and the floor was rife Wednesday with partisan potshots regarding the law.

But as the overall law continues to be unpopular in public opinion polls, some Democrats have offered a new argument: that Republicans' efforts to repeal the law will actually save it.

Bill Burton, a former White House aide who heads the super PAC Priorities USA, said the closer Republicans get to repealing the law, the more it will awaken the fury of those receiving its benefits.

"If you're a voter, do you want your kid to be kicked off of your health insurance because they're too old for it after they graduate from college? Do you want a health system where people can be kept off of health insurance because of a pre-existing condition which can include pregnancy, for example?" Burton asked.

"If you talk to people about 'Obamacare' with the negative connotations, you get one result," House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said. "When I talk to people about getting rid of discrimination because of pre-existing conditions" and other benefits, "then it's overwhelming approval."

The law's unpopularity has vexed Democrats, who marvel that its benefits many of which are popular on their own terms aren't driving up the approval rating as they are implemented by the administration.

"We need to do a better job of explaining how this impacts people in their daily lives. Millions of Americans are already benefitting without recognizing that those benefits flow from the Affordable Care Act. So we need to connect the dots," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said.

An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted March 7-10 found that Americans oppose the law overall, 52 percent to 41 percent. Forty-two percent said the Supreme Court should strike down the entire law, while 25 percent said only the individual mandate should be struck down. Only 26 percent said the entire law should be upheld by the court.

The survey of 1,003 adults, whose findings were consistent with other surveys, had a 4-point margin of error.

"When you're looking at something that's aspirational ... that's different from saying to 52 million Americans who have already benefitted in some way from the Affordable Care Act, that this is what we will take away," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said.

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) tried to place the law in a historical context.

"We had the same fight or a bigger battle over Medicare. And now you find seniors saying, 'Don't mess with my Medicare.' I think this is comparable to that battle," Moore said. "I don't have any regrets."

On the one hand, the argument carries a powerful truth. Other entitlement programs such as Medicare are so popular that House Republicans, who have spent much of this Congress pushing for spending cuts, spent this week attacking Obama for cutting Medicare funding.

But on the other hand, arguing that repealing the law could hold political peril is a far cry from running on the law's popularity. "The party that told us you had to pass the bill to find out what's in it is now saying you'd have to repeal it to find out how popular it is," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Still, Democrats appear to be stepping up that defense of the law.

On the floor Wednesday, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) gave a spirited defense of the overall law during debate on the legislation to repeal the IPAB.

"Two years ago, we passed a comprehensive health care reform package that is already lowering costs, expanding access and contributing to deficit reduction," Hoyer said, extolling the law's provision prohibiting denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions, closing the Medicare prescription drug benefit gap between out-of-pocket expenses and coverage and other popular measures.

"Despite all of these benefits, today Republicans will take yet another vote to repeal part of the Affordable Care Act. What they want to do is repeal the act," Hoyer said.

Other Democratic leaders throughout the week have been reading off the same playbook.

"The Republicans derisively call [it] 'Obamacare.' You know what? The president likes that because Obama does care about the people of this country," House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said.

House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) noted that many of the law's most significant benefits come online in 2014.

"In 2014, when it really comes into play, I think that's when people will recognize the value of this really hard-won victory," he said.

And with the presidential election in full swing, Democrats might see the president himself address the issue.

At a White House Christmas party in December, Rep. Carolyn Maloney asked Obama what he was proudest of.

"I didn't know what he was going to say," the New York Democrat recalled at a briefing Tuesday, mentioning as an example the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

It was passing the health care law, Obama told her.

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