Pelosi, Dems doubling down on ObamaCare

Greg Nash

House Democratic leaders are doubling down on their bet that President Obama's healthcare reform law will benefit them politically at the polls in November.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has scheduled a Thursday press conference — rare for a congressional recess week — to highlight the fourth anniversary of the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which Obama signed into law on March 23, 2010.

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The move is just the latest signal that Pelosi and her caucus, who have hardly shied away from the ACA in the face of political attacks from the right, instead intend to embrace the law and highlight its benefits in hopes that voters will respond amiably.

"I think the Republicans are wasting their time using that as their electoral issue, and they will find that out," Pelosi told reporters last week.

Republican leaders are more than willing to go along. They've been attacking ObamaCare as an example of big-government overreach that will limit healthcare access and increase costs — a message they've amplified since their special-election victory last week in Florida, where Democratic candidate Alex Sink's support for the ACA became a central campaign issue.

Sink's defeat at the hands of David Jolly, a former lobbyist and Capitol Hill staffer, has only reinforced the GOP's sense that the healthcare reform law is a Democratic liability, and that attacking it will pay dividends in the midterm elections.

“If you’re a Democrat in one of those crossover seats, I’d be panicked this morning, because their playbook they’ve given [Democrats] is to run on ObamaCare," Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), head of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said after Jolly's win. " 'Go support the president and go support ObamaCare,' and they tried that out and it failed."

Democrats maintain that Sink's loss hinged much more on low voter turnout in a special election in a conservative district than it did on the healthcare law. They say they'll fare much better in November.

"Both sides are going to spin it," Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said last week of the Florida contest, "but I don't draw a lot of conclusions about November."

Welch said the GOP's attacks on the ACA would be hindered by internal disagreements over how the Republicans would replace the ACA in the unlikely event that it was repealed.

"They don't have credibility for an alternative," he said.

Attempting to iron out that wrinkle, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has promised a vote this year on a GOP replacement that Republicans hope to trumpet on the campaign trail. 

Republican leaders have met in recent weeks in search of that alternative. It remains uncertain if the GOP's strategy will result in a single bill or a series of bills. It's also unclear if their strategy will do away with the ACA in its entirety, amid growing pressure to keep some of the more popular benefits established by the law. 

Joining Pelosi at Thursday's press conference will be Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee. 

The briefing is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. in the Capitol.