Obama Hopes To Retake Health Debate With Grass (And Net) Roots Activity
CQ Politics reports: "After enduring weeks of criticism over their efforts to retool the U.S. health system, President Obama invited all 60 members of the Senate Democratic Caucus to a White House lunch last week for a round of commiserating and chin-up encouragement ... Still, for all the rhetorical morale-boosting, some lawmakers are growing restive over the question of just what sort of big-picture health plan they're fighting for. Throughout the health care debate, the president has focused more on the importance of completing an overhaul and enumerating the shortcomings of the present health system than explaining precisely what any changes will deliver."
"...Obama's posture has put the onus on the Democratic-led Congress to deliver a coherent message - and as legislative momentum builds behind various health care proposals, that goal has proven quite elusive" (Bettelheim, 8/11).
On Monday, administration officials introduced the new Web site, Reality Check, that will combat claims by reform critics such as that proposals include "socializing medicine," "rationed care," and euthanasia, the New York Times reports. In unveiling the site, however, the officials "were tacitly acknowledging a difficult reality: they are suddenly at risk of losing control of the public debate over a signature issue for Mr. Obama and are now playing defense in a way they have not since last year's campaign" (Rutenberg and Calmes, 8/10).
During the presidential election season, Obama's campaign used a similar tactic, with a Web feature called "fight the smears" to "confront whispers about the then-presidential candidate," the Los Angeles Times reports. Videos on the site describe the euthanasia claims as a "malicious myth," and argues that insurance companies already ration care. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, the minority leader, said it's "full of errors, misstatements and falsehoods" (Parsons, 8/11).
Obama will also hold town hall meetings in New Hampshire, Montana and Colorado this week, the Wall Street Journal reports. "A White House official said participants wouldn't be screened to keep out opponents," according to the report. Democratic legislators have faced "rowdy" shouting matches at their own town halls this month. Obama's message will focus on efforts to "end the practice of denying insurance coverage to people with a pre-existing illness; keep people from losing their coverage if they get sick; and protect Americans who face high out-of-pocket medical costs," according to administration officials, the Journal reports (Adamy, 8/11).
"White House aides hope that by giving voters specific guarantees about how their health insurance coverage will improve they will both shift the debate and beat back some misconceptions -- ranging from the idea that Medicare benefits might drop to the allegation, made by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, that the president intended create kind of 'death panel' of government bureaucrats who would make life-ending decisions for patients," the Washington Post reports (Kornblut, 8/10).
The first of the town halls, beginning at 1 p.m. today in Portsmouth, N.H., "will almost certainly be less of a free-for-all than the raucous congressional ones, filled with shouting matches, pushing and shoving, and even some arrests," the Boston Globe reports. Secret Service security and White House-controlled distribution of admission tickets are expected to promote a more genial atmosphere. However, protestors already have plans to meet outside. The New Hampshire Republican Volunteer Coalition will protest reform in what their invitation to members called the "most important pro-liberty event of the year." The AFL-CIO, a federation of unions that support the reform bills, will lead a counter-protest (8/11).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.