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Health Blame Game Builds

Insurers, GOP Under Attack

Senate Democrats on Wednesday continued to ramp up their weeklong campaign on health care reform, training their fire on the insurance industry and Republicans who they charge simply want to stop any overhaul from happening.

The Democratic offensive comes as the clock ticks toward the four-week August recess, and fresh polling shows public confidence waning for the party’s health care proposals. Hoping for a turnaround, the Democratic Conference held a two-hour session to prepare for how to sell its health care reform plans over the break.

“Republicans’ role in this is all about slow down, stop and no.’ It’s easy to capture a public debate when you’re saying, slow down, stop and no,’— Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said during a news conference. “Republicans have, as always, thrown in with insurance companies’ interests to try to undermine what we’re doing.—

Brown serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which approved health care legislation on a party-line vote in mid-July. He was joined by Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), a senior member of the Finance Committee and chairman of the panel’s Subcommittee on Health Care.

Rockefeller said an investigation by the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which he chairs, proves that insurance companies regularly “purge— individuals from their rolls after they get sick to preserve profits.

The West Virginia Democrat’s charge comes as the party appears to be shifting its broader message on health care. Democrats have begun using the phrase “health insurance reform— rather than “health care reform— when talking about overhauling the system.

The three Democrats argued that Republicans are in collusion with greedy insurance companies to try to stop health care reform in its tracks. The trio charged that the drop in public confidence in the Democratic health care agenda is the result of a manipulative misinformation campaign by the GOP.

“It is astonishing, frankly, that after all this time, after all this pain and anguish, Republicans are ramping up their attack machine to defend the status quo,— Whitehouse said. “The Republicans bring to this an effort to delay and derail the process, and to turn the most desperate domestic policy crisis in our country into political theater.—

A Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters released Wednesday showed a majority of voters now disapprove of Obama’s handling of health care, with 39 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving. The results show a 7-point drop in the president’s approval from a similar survey last month.

Likewise, a CNN poll, also publicized Wednesday, found that only 30 percent of Americans believe health care reform will help them and their families if health care reform proposals the president supports become law. Nearly half of those surveyed — 44 percent — said measures supported by Obama would help other families, but not their own.

Senate Republicans have argued that the Democratic health care agenda is sinking under its own weight, believing that the majority party’s attempt to blame them will fall flat.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) noted Wednesday that Democratic leaders have the votes in both chambers of Congress to pass a health care bill, but have been stopped by disgruntled rank-and-file Members in their own party. A senior GOP Senate aide added that Democrats continue to flail not only because Americans are rejecting their health care policies, but because their public relations strategy is focused on Beltway journalists, rather than their constituents.

“I think right now Republicans are to some extent standing on the sidelines watching Democrats fight Democrats. We certainly see that on the health care debate,— Cornyn told reporters during a news conference to discuss the 2010 elections.

The senior GOP Senate aide said Republicans accomplished phase 1 of their goal, which was to influence public opinion against the Democratic health care proposals — at least long enough to get to the recess that begins Friday. Phase 2 involves getting the public behind the Republicans’ health care reform ideas, this aide said.

Senate Republicans believe the week before the break is serving their goals well. They argue that while they are holding tele-town-hall meetings with voters back home on health care, Senate Democrats have been focused on trying to convince the Capitol Hill press corps that the Republicans are standing in the way of passing a bill.

“Legislatively, we can’t do it — we can’t force our way into making this bill better,— the senior Republican Senate aide said. “The American people can.—

To capitalize on the month away from Washington, the Democratic Conference convened a special health care caucus Wednesday afternoon to educate Senators on the HELP health care bill and the ideas percolating in the Finance panel, where a bipartisan group of Senators is trying to broker a deal. Senate Democrats are scheduled to meet behind closed doors again today with White House senior adviser David Axelrod and Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina for a seminar on how to message health care over the recess.

Meanwhile, Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said his panel’s six bipartisan negotiators made additional progress toward a bipartisan bill during Wednesday’s lone two-hour session. The group is scheduled today to meet with Obama at the White House.

Among the issues the group discussed on Wednesday was a proposal to allow an independent group to set Medicare rates, and measures to expand access to Medicaid. Today’s session is set to include further discussions on health care affordability. Baucus said there are tentative plans for the negotiators to convene in person over the recess.

“It was a very good day,— Baucus said. “There was significant progress on two major subjects.—

Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.

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