By Byron York
While Republicans argue among themselves over what to do about Obamacare -- Defund it? Delay it? Give up the fight to repeal it? -- a coalition of wealthy and determined liberal groups is preparing to strike back at GOP efforts to stop the president's health care scheme.
"We will deploy every tool and tactic at our disposal," said Brad Woodhouse, a former Democratic National Committee spokesman who now heads a group called Americans United for Change, during a recent conference call with reporters. "Events with supportive members (of Congress), administration officials, protests at Republican events, editorial board meetings, social media, press releases, op-eds, emails, videos, ads ... to hold Republicans accountable and go on offense in explaining (Obamacare's) benefits to people."
Woodhouse listed the groups, in addition to his own, that are part of the new effort: Health Care for America Now; the Center for American Progress; Protect Your Care; the Service Employees International Union; the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; Planned Parenthood. They are just one segment, or "hub," as Woodhouse described it, in the broader effort to sell Obamacare run largely by Organizing for Action, a carry-over group from the Obama 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
Much of the attention paid so far to the pro-Obamacare campaign has focused on efforts to promote the plan's features. What will distinguish the new group is a strategy to counter the GOP's continuing efforts against Obamacare. In assessing the defense effort, Woodhouse, who recently moved from the DNC to Americans United for Change, felt something was missing.
"The first place I noticed some space that needed to be filled was going after the GOP on Obamacare, rather than us being gone after all the time," he said in an email exchange after the conference call. "That's why we're jumping into this."
Woodhouse wouldn't say how much money his organization has, other than it will be "enough." He's also got some resources money can't buy. For example, Stephanie Cutter, a former Obama campaign spokeswoman, will be advising the group on messaging -- at the same time she is starting a new role as co-host of CNN's revived "Crossfire." Don't look for her to stray off-message.
The problem for the group, of course, is that Americans don't like Obamacare, and haven't ever since it first took shape in the summer of 2009. The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, for example, showed people oppose the law, 49 percent to 42 percent. And the opposition is not just Republicans and independents; the poll also revealed that support among moderate and conservative Democrats has dropped steadily. In 2010, when Obamacare was signed into law, 74 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats supported it. Now, that number is 46 percent.
Faced with those daunting numbers, the new war room seeks to build support by undermining the critics, as well as focusing on the elements of Obamacare that poll well, like the elimination of pre-existing conditions restrictions.
"We are using those individual elements of the law to our benefit, and as a hook," Eddie Vale, of Protect Your Care, said on the conference call. As far as the mandates, higher costs, and other unhappy consequences of Obamacare are concerned -- well, don't look for them to stand out in the groups' playbook.
Highlighting those will be the work of the anti-Obamacare forces set to take the field this August, when members of Congress are in their home districts for the summer recess. Shortly before Woodhouse announced his group's plans, Heritage Action, the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, announced the "Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour." Starting Aug. 19, the group will hold nine events around the country led by former Sen. Jim DeMint, now head of Heritage and a widely respected figure in conservative circles. At least one event will also feature Sen. Ted Cruz, a leader in the defunding movement.
Woodhouse would say only that "we are going to find a way to respond" to the Heritage events. But look for them to become circuses of anti- and pro-Obamacare forces, as both sides try to attract media attention in the August lull. And it all leads up to September, when the Republican effort to defund Obamacare will either happen, or it won't.
No matter how it goes, Democrats are operating from a position of strength. Republicans have passion and a good case. But Obamacare is already the law, having survived GOP efforts to kill it, a Supreme Court challenge, and mounting Democratic nervousness. If Woodhouse's group, and the others like it, can fight to a draw in August, the Republican surge will fall short -- again.