With GOP Repeal Effort, Democrats See Chance for a Do-Over on Health Care

Democrats doggedly pursued and proudly passed a large-scale reform of the nation's health insurance system in 2010, only to take a drubbing at the polls last November. But now, in the face of Republican efforts to repeal the law, Democrats see an opportunity to take advantage of a "do-over" with their salesmanship to the public.

During the midterm campaigns, Democrats seemed to be running away from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. After taking what President Obama described as a "shellacking" in the election, some Democrats have complained that the party did not sufficiently or effectively sell the aspects of the law that would have made it more popular.

With House Republicans reopening the health care debate in their largely symbolic vote to repeal the law, Democrats say they have been given the chance to once again showcase what health care reform can do for this country. It is, they hope, a rare second chance to correct a bad first impression.

"Today, the American people have greater health security than they did a year ago," President Obama said in a statement today. "Because of the Affordable Care Act, Americans no longer have to live in fear that insurance companies will drop or cap their coverage if they get sick, or that they'll face double-digit premium increases with no accountability or recourse. Small businesses across the country can take advantage of a new health care tax credit to offer coverage to their employees, and children suffering from an illness or pre-existing condition can no longer be denied coverage."

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Eager not to pass up the second-chance opportunity, the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee convened a meeting today to showcase some of the people who have already benefited from the new law. They included children with pre-existing conditions, a student able to stay on his parents' health care until he is 26, and a breast cancer survivor.

"I just wish the president had had all of you over to the East Room from the moment this debate began, and just day after day after day had the cameras on you and Americans like yourself," Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, told the guests at the event. "Because I don't think we'd have any further explaining to do to the American people on a debate that got so distorted and unfair."

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., criticized Republicans for their approach to the repeal and said that the Democratic meeting was the only forum where ordinary Americans affected by health care reform got the chance to talk about their experiences.

"Republicans have closed off the process by not having hearings to hear these voices," she said.

These particular voices, carefully chosen to make the Democrats' case, obviously wouldn't have helped the GOP in their quest to repeal health care. The proposed repeal legislation is expected to easily pass the House Wednesday, but its prospects in the Senate are dim, and it is expected to die there.

Among those giving testimony today was cancer survivor Vernal Branch, who said that the health care bill provides her with protection against the uncertainty and fear that came with being denied health insurance coverage because of her past disease, and Edward Burke, a hemophiliac whose medication costs more than $1million dollars annually (a fee he doesn't pay himself, but one that would quickly approach a lifetime cap if lifetime caps had not been outlawed under the law.)

The event was intended not just to "put a face to the legislation," as Pelosi said, but also to allow regular people to make a point that Democratic members of Congress have been trying to hammer home for months: that this law is helping struggling Americans better deal with the health care system. Democrats hope that they can wrestle the conversation away from Republicans, who have dominated much of the debate for the past several months.

"There's been a lot of talk about by some of our colleagues about how this is going to be a "job-killing bill," as if by putting it in the title of their bill and repeating it over and over somehow makes it true," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. "By my calculation, there's only one job... that will be eliminated as a result of this bill. And that will be the guy at the insurance company who had the duty of looking through the fine print on your insurance policy and looking for ways to deny you coverage."

This article appeared in the Tuesday, January 18, 2011 edition of National Journal.

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