White House Advisers Brief Senators on Health Care Prior to Recess
White House senior adviser David Axelrod and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina on Thursday briefed Senate Democrats on how to promote health reform and respond to protesters at constituent events over the August recess, Politico reports (Budoff Brown, Politico, 8/6).
At the hour long closed-door session on Capitol Hill, Axelrod and Messina presented polling data that indicated a strong focus on increased consumer protections, such as forbidding insurers from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions, could be a political winner and help gain support for reform from independents, women, seniors and rural voters (Alonso-Zaldivar/Werner, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 8/7). The senators also were given a "message card" with key talking points and state-specific information about the rising cost of care (Meckler, Wall Street Journal, 8/6).
The White House aides also advised the senators on how to respond to protesters who have been disrupting town-hall meetings and other constituent events hosted by congressional Democrats in their home districts (Drucker, Roll Call, 8/6). They watched clips of protesters and discussed how they would react in similar situations (Bolton/Young, The Hill, 8/6).
Senators would not discuss the specific tactics that they were told to use in countering the protesters, but Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) noted that "most members have a pretty good idea how to handle it" (Armstrong, CQ Today, 8/6).
Politico reports that the senators were told to prepare more than usual for public meetings and make sure that supporters of health reform turn out for the events as well (Politico, 8/6).
According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Axelrod and Messina advised attendees "to stick with what we're doing and not let [the protesters] throw you off course" (Bolton/Young, The Hill, 8/6).
Messina pledged that if a Democratic senator was attacked for supporting health reform legislation, the White House and other allies would respond in full force by organizing local physicians, nurses, religious leaders and others to come to their defense. Messina said, "If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard" (Wall Street Journal, 8/6).
Following the meeting, Axelrod said, "I think the American people understand that the status quo works very well for the insurance companies" but that it "doesn't always work well for [U.S. residents] and I think that they're going to be heard" (Bolton/Young, The Hill, 8/6).
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said that the "next five weeks are about closing the sale with the insured population," making certain that they understand how insurance reforms will help them (CQ Today, 8/6).
Blame Spread Around for Town Hall Protesters
On Thursday, Democratic Senate leaders alleged that Republicans and representatives from the health insurance industry were responsible for orchestrating the protests that are disrupting the constituent events on health care reform. Democrats called the protests "staged" and "phony," The Hill reports (Bolton, The Hill, 8/6).
In a press conference on Thursday, Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said, "We shouldn't fall for these sucker punches that are being set up by some of these groups funded by the insurance industry and the extremists of the Republican Party" (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 8/6).
Holding up a piece of Astroturf, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "They want to convince people they're grassroots and they're not. It's as phony as this is as grass." He added, "They're taking their cues from talk-show hosts, Internet rumor-mongers and insurance rackets," while Democrats "take our cues from people in our states and the people in our counties that have concerns in this legislation" (Bolton, The Hill, 8/6).
However, not all Democrats believe the protests have been staged.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) on her Twitter feed wrote, "I disagree that the people showing concern over some health care proposals are 'manufactured.' Real folks, strong opinions."
In addition, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), when asked in a Fox News interview whether strategists had manufactured the protests, said, "In the town-hall meeting I had, that was not the case," adding, "People have strong views about health care reform" (Bolton/Young, The Hill, 8/6).
American Public Media's "Marketplace" on Thursday reported that there is no way to find out who funds protests because the current lobbying disclosure act does not require firms to report attempts to create demonstrations (Henn, "Marketplace," American Public Media, 8/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.