Activists step up health care fight

By Ambreen Ali

Activists are getting ready for the final showdown on health care.

As Democrats renew their push on health care this week, advocacy groups on both sides have stepped up their efforts to energize their bases and influence lawmakers.

President Obama’s health care plan — released ahead of Thursday’s bipartisan health summit   — resembles the Senate bill (HR 3590) with a few concessions that could get House Democrats to pass the overhaul with a simple majority.

That strategy gives Democrats an advantage, since they hold the majority in both chambers.

But opponents of the overhaul are doing everything they can to ensure that won’t happen. They have started e-mail, robocall, and advertising campaigns telling members to pressure lawmakers against the President’s plan.

“We’re trying to go gangbusters this week,” said Carrie Lukas of Independent Women’s Voice. The conservative group has been using radio ads and phone campaigns to target specific Congressional districts.

“There’s a lot of Members of the House who have to be nervous about making this leap,” Lukas said, noting that some Democrats are nervous about midterm elections after Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) won in Massachusetts.

The House health care bill (HR 3962) passed by five votes, 220-215. The conservative groups are trying to identify the handful of Representatives who may be easiest to peel away from the majority.

Americans for Tax Reform has been using the plan’s tax provisions to sway lawmakers against the bill. The group said the President’s proposal includes a net tax hike of $748 billion over the next decade.

“We’re going to try to make Members profoundly uncomfortable if they were going to vote for it,” Tax Policy Director Ryan Ellis said.

The group used similar analyses of the House and Senate bills to lobby lawmakers, making them well prepared for what Ellis called the “the third round.”

But it also works to the activists’ disadvantage that the health care debate has dragged. Grassroots bases that were energized around health care last year have waned over time.

“We’re trying to bring the energy level and engagement level of our activists back up to where it was last year,” Phil Kerpen, a spokesman for Americans for Prosperity, said.

The group is holding a counter-event to the health summit to get some of that excitement back.

“We’re likely near the end one way or the other,” Kerpen said. “Either they’ll succeed in getting something very unpopular through or they’ll move on.”

As for the summit itself, some groups are adopting a wait-and-see approach.

The Chamber of Commerce, a powerful opponent of the Democrats’ proposals, sent the President a letter yesterday asking him to drop the House and Senate bills in favor of “a fresh approach.”

Others, including the Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, have already written it off the event as “kabuki.”

“This is a last-ditch effort by the President to restart the debate and take hold of the narrative,” spokesman Brian Burgess said.

The group has been targeting the public option through radio and television ads that ask voters to get in touch with lawmakers. It’s a “trickle-up” approach to which Burgess said lawmakers respond.

If it works this time around, conservative activists may prevail.

“We’re at the point where if [the summit] doesn’t work, there’s really not a lot of time to reboot before elections,” he noted.

 Ambreen Ali writes for