Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 3, 2011

SENATE DEMS SEE OPPORTUNITY WITH HEALTH CARE REPEAL PUSH.... Over the weekend, some important new benefits took effect as part of the Affordable Care Act, including provisions of particular interest to seniors.

The "donut hole" in Medicare's prescription-drug plan, for example, has created considerable burdens on millions of middle-income seniors. Their drug costs are covered initially, but once they reach a modest limit, these seniors who rely on their medications are stuck with big out-of-pocket costs until catastrophic coverage can kick in. As of Saturday, these Americans who've been stuck in the "doughnut hole" are eligible receive a 50% discount on the price of brand-name prescription drugs.

Today, the Senate Democratic leadership wrote Speaker-designate John Boehner (R-Ohio) about this. The letter was pretty clever -- Dems noted that Boehner's caucus intends to try to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act, but urged Republicans to consider what this would do to those seniors who'd feel the brunt of the GOP's push.

The incoming House Republican majority has promised to enact a "clean repeal" of the federal health care law in the opening days of the new Congress. In a letter to Boehner, Senate Democratic leaders warned that undoing the law would jeopardize a number of popular consumer protections, including some that are just now taking effect.

"We urge you to consider the unintended consequences that the law's repeal would have on a number of popular consumer protections that help middle class Americans," the senators wrote. "The 'donut hole' fix is just one measure that would be threatened by a repeal effort. Taking this benefit away from seniors would be irresponsible and reckless at a time when it is becoming harder and harder for seniors to afford a healthy retirement."

The senators added: "If House Republicans move forward with a repeal of the health care law that threatens consumer benefits like the 'donut hole' fix, we will block it in the Senate. This proposal deserves a chance to work. It is too important to be treated as collateral damage in a partisan mission to repeal health care."

It's of interest, of course, that the Senate Democratic leadership would write the letter vowing to block the GOP's move, but there's a larger significance to this -- it's the first hint of Dems playing offense on health care, at the national level, in a while.

As Greg Sargent explained, "This is another sign that Dems view the GOP's push for repeal of reform as an opportunity of sorts. The debate sparked by the GOP's repeal push, Dems hope, will allow Dems another chance to educate the public about what's actually in the health care law, by pointing to the specific provisions that would disappear in the unlikely event that the Affordable Care Act were somehow to get repealed.... [I]t suggests Dems are gearing up to mount an aggressive response centered on informing the public about what's in the law by emphasizing what repeal would take away from people."

If this strategy seems kind of familiar, it's because I recommended it for Dems yesterday. The message for the party seems pretty obvious to me -- as 2011 gets underway, one of the top priorities of the new Republican majority isn't job creation; it's forcing vulnerable seniors to pay thousands of additional dollars for their medication and allowing insurers to discriminate against children with pre-existing conditions. The House GOP isn't focused on economic growth; it's focused on raising taxes on small businesses and taking away health care coverage for millions of middle-class families.

There's some hints Dems see this as the opportunity it is. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) told the NYT yesterday, "We will respond by pointing out the impact of repeal on people's lives. On women with cancer who could be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition. On senior citizens who would lose the help they are receiving to pay for prescriptions."

Steve Benen 3:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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"The Dems aren't focused on economic growth; they're focused on bailing out Wall Street and keeping it happy."

There, fixed that for ya.

Posted by: D or R on January 3, 2011 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

And it took these geniouses how many months to figure out that trumpeting the good things might help them?
What a two party system we have:
The Republicans don't have a single new thought in their heads.
And the Democrats don't have a clue.

Posted by: c u n d gulag on January 3, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

All the Dems need to do is each send this Stuart Carlson comic to everyone they know.

It camptures the dynamic about as well and as concisely as anything I've seen since the HCR debate began.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 3, 2011 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

Steve could you please address something for me? The republicans expect to repeal health care and give Americans the system we had prior to ACA. How long from repeal to passage of a new bill assuming that the house senate and president sign it will Americans go without healthcare until the benefits are felt? And what do they Plan on replacing it with?

Posted by: allamr18 on January 3, 2011 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I don't criticize the sentiment. Democrats -- at least those who didn't campaign against ACA -- would be wise to point out the more popular provisions in the reform package.

Having said that, I always question the efficacy of these letters. How many Americans are following the inside baseball of Senators writing a letter to the House?

My guess is that 1 letter to an AARP chapter is equal to 1000 letters to John Boehner.

Posted by: square1 on January 3, 2011 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

It's so much easier to call for the repeal of the entire bill because you aren't forced to articulate exactly what needs changing and how.

Dems need to punish republican laziness by demanding that they specify what the replacement plan will be and how it will be a better solution to the looming healthcare disaster.

Hopefully, enough Dems aren't themselves too lazy to implement such a counter-strategy.

Posted by: bdop4 on January 3, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

I agree, square1, but I suppose it depends on what they do with teh "open letter." Relying on national media is a fool's game. Senators who signed it need to send it to small-town newspapers back home. First, they have limited resources and love nothing more than to have "news" handed to them gift-wrapped; second, small-towns tend to skew older, so the message is particularly relevant.

Posted by: zeitgeist on January 3, 2011 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

It's a jolly good strategy AND it needs to be followed through, not just dropped after one news cycle. AND Dems need to write to their local papers, blogs, etc urging people to preserve these common sense health care changes. The Repubs will try again and again until they get the message that the population likes health care (although some will be like that old reactionary John McCain and oppose simply for the sake of opposition) and even then, like abortion they will not give-up. This is a fight for public opinion.... And it must be sustained over a long period.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on January 3, 2011 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

How about turning that letter into an OP-Ed in the NYTs or WP? I like the idea of sending the letter directly to AARP members. How do the Democratic senate leaders acquire the mailing list?

Loudly draw some lines in the sand and dare the Republicans to cross them. The message has to be clear and consistent. Democrats are on the side of 98% of the American people. Republicans are looking out for the upper 2%. We have to repeat that message over and over again. We have to demand Republicans tell us why we need to be hurt to proptect their rich friends.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

What the Republicans will say is that it's the insurance mandate that they're going after -- failing to mention of course that without that, the rest of the entire reform package falls apart. Hitting Republicans with the prospect of grandma not getting her meds is easy; Dems need to get ready to fight the mandate repeal, where the political optics aren't as good and it's easy for voters to be misled about the implications of repeal. It will also be interesting to see how the insurance industry responds to this.

Posted by: jonas on January 3, 2011 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

"It's so much easier to call for the repeal of the entire bill because you aren't forced to articulate exactly what needs changing and how."

Perhaps Democrats could meet with drug companies and health insurance companies. Off the record, of course...

Posted by: Rx on January 3, 2011 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems have been handed numerous opportunities by the crazies in the GOP and they managed to fumble away or otherwise misuse the gifts. I'm not getting my hopes up here.

Posted by: BillFromPA on January 3, 2011 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Jonas, mandate repeal is where I would start if I wanted to reform the ACA. In fact that is what I want to see happen. Replace the mandate with a medicare option or something similar. What Democrats need to do is use "repeal" as an excuse to improve the program. The Republcans would do it to us. Why can't we use a little political judo on them.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 3, 2011 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

Let's see now, we've got 12% unemployment in California, with little or no prospects for their relief on the immediate horizon.

We've committed 100,000 troops to a mission a half-world away that one U.S. commander described as a live-action Tom & Jerry cartoon.

And Mexico continues to crumble right before our very eyes, presenting us with the very real prospect of millions of refugees fleeing en masse across our southern border to escape a multi-factioned civil war.

Meanwhile, the beautiful people in D.C. are still consumed with their games of political gotcha, a thrice-accused alleged car thief masquerading as a member of Congress calls Barack Obama administration "the most corrupt president in modern times", and Judy Miller, aka "Little Miss Run Amock" takes Julian Assange to task for not verifying his sources.

Where's my bong when I need it?

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on January 3, 2011 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

The Dems have been handed numerous opportunities by the crazies in the GOP and they managed to fumble away or otherwise misuse the gifts. I'm not getting my hopes up here.-

Fumble away? Misuse? The Dems have enriched themselves with these uh, "gifts". Yeah, that's the word. Gifts...

Posted by: Bow on January 3, 2011 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

Oh My! A sternly worded letter!
Get out the fainting couches.

Posted by: martin on January 3, 2011 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

The funny thing is the GOP says they think they have the vote to over ride a veto while failing to recognize that there's no way repeal is ever going to get through the senate. Ever.


Posted by: fourlegsgood on January 3, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

@Ron Byers -- The insurance mandate was the least worst way to implement HCR; a robust public option, if not straight-up single-payer, would have been much better, policy-wise. But we got what we got because that's what would pass and if the ACA is really dismantled (viz. by eliminating the mandate), it's not getting put back together again, not for a very, long time, if ever, and certainly not with the Congress we have now. You think some kind of "Medicare for all" or public option would ever see the light of day?

Posted by: jonas on January 3, 2011 at 4:39 PM | PERMALINK

The headline should read: Republicans forming Medicare Death Panels. Seniors in jeopardy.

Posted by: NolaSlim on January 3, 2011 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Jonas, the insurance mandate in the Republican desiged ACA, is intended to keep the health insurance companies happy. They claim they will collapse if anybody fails to buy insurance, but can opt in regardless of pre-existing conditions. There are lots of ways to deal with pre-existing conditions without dealing death. If Obama handles it right and the Republcians paint themselves far enough into the corner something like medicare for all to handle pre-existing conditions with an insurance opt out could really improve the ACA.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 3, 2011 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

Ron Buyers, you may be correct that there's a possibility to replace the mandate with a public option/Medicare buy-in. The prerequisite, however, is months of Republican attempts to repeal the present ACA and not offering anything to replace it; or anything financially viable, anyway.
As you state, what will be required is for the Republicans to show the country just how out-of-touch with the country's needs and wants they really are. That will take several (two?) years however, and I can't see anything being changed in the ACA until AFTER the 2012 elections.
It will be very enjoyable though, watching the semi-sane Republicans attempting to control the batsh*t crazy Republicans!
It will give an entire new depth and meaning to reality television...

Posted by: Doug on January 3, 2011 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK



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