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Senate GOP Launching New Campaign Against Health Care Law

Correction Appended

Senate Republicans are poised to try to reignite the health care debate by launching a coordinated political messaging offensive to target Democrats and the White House for what they contend are the new law’s onerous consequences.

A group of Republican Senators who played key roles in the yearlong fight over health care legislation met Thursday in Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (Ky.) office to discuss the strategy. Under the slogan “second opinion,” Republicans plan to communicate their message on multiple fronts, including on the Senate floor, in press conferences, via the Internet and through television and radio appearances.

A Republican Senate aide described the effort as intended “to draw attention to the consequences of the health care law that the White House hopes people miss.”

Democrats rebuked the strategy as typical of what the Republicans offered throughout the contentious health care debate. “I guess it takes Republicans a ‘second opinion’ to ignore all the benefits of the new law,” a Democratic Senate aide said. “Their second opinion pretty much sounds like their first opinion — just the same old rehashed obstructionism at its worst.”

The Republicans’ latest public relations offensive had been in the works since President Barack Obama signed the health care overhaul into law in late March, but their complete roll out was delayed while Senators focused on financial reform legislation. Until now, the Republicans’ pushback has been largely conducted by the GOP leadership’s press operation.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), an orthopedic surgeon and key player in the health care debate, has not halted his criticism of the new law in the weeks since it was enacted. Barrasso, who coined the “second opinion” slogan, participated in Thursday’s strategy session in McConnell’s office.

“I’ve gone to the floor every week for the last four weeks and given a doctor’s second opinion of this health care law because at least every week something that I predicted would happen has actually happened,” Barrasso said, citing a new Congressional Budget Office report estimating that the health care overhaul could cost an additional $115 billion.

Also attending the GOP strategy session were Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.); Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.); Policy Chairman John Thune (S.D.); Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.); Finance ranking member Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions ranking member Mike Enzi (Wyo.).

Alexander’s GOP Conference office recently unveiled a website titled “A Second Opinion” to act as an online aggregator of news and talking points supporting the Republican health care message.

Additionally, a component of the new health care campaign involves Republican criticism of Donald Berwick, who President Barack Obama nominated to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. On Wednesday, McConnell and Republican Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Pat Roberts (Kan.) engaged in a colloquy on the Senate floor in which they attacked Berwick’s record. Berwick is a doctor and Harvard professor.

Every Republican in the House and Senate voted against the health care bill on final passage.

Senate Democrats remain highly supportive of the law and were dismissive of these latest Republican campaign.

“We have so many things on our plate right now, so many things we have to do. To go back and get in a political argument is just the wrong place to go,” Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) said.

Correction: July 7, 2010

The article incorrectly reported one of the participants in a Senate floor colloquy criticizing the record of Donald Berwick, who was nominated to run the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The colloquy included Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.).

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