Republicans have a message for President Barack Obama: Go ahead, Mr. President, and make all the speeches you want on the economy, because you’re just helping us make Obamacare the issue.
As the president and his allies gear up to educate the public about the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, Republicans and their followers will be pushing back. For them the fight for 2014 begins this summer. The new health care law will be the issue, they say, and so it’s all about who is more convincing.
“I think it’s backfired. It’s going to continue to backfire,” said Daniel Scarpinato, press secretary of the National Republican Congressional Committee, or NRCC. “If he wants to travel around the country talking about Obamacare, we welcome that because that’s a debate that we want to have. We think the country needs to have that debate.”
In a speech on Wednesday, Obama accused his detractors of an “endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals” that has led Washington to lose focus on what’s important.
“Short-term thinking and stale debates are not what this moment requires,” Obama said.
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But Republicans are thinking beyond this moment, and spending big bucks to try and make Obamacare fail.
Making It Personal
Americans for Prosperity, a conservative nonprofit, has already spent close to a million dollars challenging the health care law. It has no plans to mention the president’s name in any of its targeted online attacks and TV ads. During the August congressional recess, it will be rolling out grassroots efforts at town hall meetings and meetups, bringing in health care experts to talk about the law.
It has already launched a website called “Obamacare Risk Factors,” asking people to check whether the law has any real world impact on their family, whether it’s an improvement or something that’s making things worse, said Levi Russell, an AFP spokesman. The concept will be pushed further in the coming weeks. It's ads like this that they hope will swing the public to the Republicans.
“That’s the first wave,” Russell said. “There’s certainly many more to come.”
‘Burn Your Obamacare Cards’
Another conservative group, FreedomWorks, plans on encouraging so many people to turn away from government health care exchanges that the system collapses. Its message: Buy on the private market policies that meet your needs, pay cash for routine medical expenses if you can or find alternative means such as so-called health-sharing ministries, where members agree to help pay each other’s medical bills.
“We want to hasten the collapse of the government exchanges by encouraging people, especially the millennials and young adults under 40, to skip the exchange and do something else such as pay the fine,” said Dean Clancy, vice president of public policy at FreedomWorks. “Really the whole game here in health care is how many young healthy people can be induced to go into the exchanges. Everything the administration is doing right now is focused single-mindedly on the goal of getting as many warm bodies in the exchanges as possible.”
With a total budget of approximately $20 million annually, FreedomWorks is not a heavy hitter, and Clancy will be the first to admit it. However, Clancy believes there is power in the message that “it’s your exchange. It’s your choice. Do what’s best for you.”
“Whoever wins this competition probably determines what happens with Obamacare,” he said.
At the end of July, FreedomWorks will begin to enlist the help of young libertarians through a partnership with Young Americans for Liberty, filming young people and students across the nation burning fake Obamacare cards. People can also write on the cards and send them to their representatives in Congress, expressing their displeasure.
“We think that if we can spread a message of peaceful resistance, peaceful noncompliance, we’ve got a good chance here to expose the economic unworkability of these new schemes,” Clancy added.
The Countdown Clock
In the meantime, the NRCC has launched its countdown clock, ticking off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the arrival of the Oct. 1 deadline for each state to have the exchange in place. But as the deadline approaches, districts are going to be seeing more mobile billboards, digital banners and TV ads as a countermove to the president’s education push.
Only 46 percent of moderate and conservative Democrats support the federal law, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC Poll. Therefore, as part of its strategy, the NRCC will make a similar push in districts to educate voters about which of their representatives have backed Obamacare.
“I think making these connections for them is really important,” Scarpinato said.