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Using the Word ‘Obamacare’ for Political Gain

Latest Battle Over Taxpayer Funded Mass Mailings Centers on Labeling of Health Care Reform Plan

In the latest battle in the Congressional franking wars, Democrats have been vetoing use of the word “Obamacare” in taxpayer-financed mass mailings, saying it violates rules against using the franking privilege for “personal, partisan or political reasons.”

Their objections are irking Republicans as the calendar advances toward the 2012 elections.

“It’s telling that Democrats are fearful of taking ownership of the president’s signature piece of legislation,” a GOP House aide said. “The White House and Congressional Democrats exhausted all of their political capital and a Congressional majority to move the bill across the finish line and into law. You would think given how much it cost them, that they would embrace the end result and proudly attach the president’s name to it at every opportunity.” 

“You know, if it was popular they’d be all about calling it Obamacare,” another Republican source added.

At issue is the ability to send provocative communications using Congressional funds. The franking commission reviews official mail, email and social media for overtly political or inflammatory content.

Salley Wood, a spokeswoman for the Republicans on the House Administration Committee, said the parties “don’t always agree” on how the franking rules apply but that Obamacare is an instance where Republicans have conceded ground to expedite the process.

“A bipartisan commission means bipartisan consent,” she said.

“The franking commission has an obligation to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used for personal, partisan, or political reasons,” said Gregory Abbott, the Democratic spokesman for the committee. “There has been a long-standing agreement on both sides of the commission that the phrase does not meet this standard.”

Use of the word Obamacare as a shorthand reference for the health care reform law has become a rallying cry for conservatives who are working to repeal the law.

Democrats have objected to the term.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY.) said Obamacare has “become sort of pejorative, for no particular reason — through usage and the way it’s used and who uses it. The Republicans are trying to make it pejorative.”

Nadler added that Republicans were trying to seize on Obama’s unpopularity to make the health care law unpopular as well.

“If you can identify something with someone who’s unpopular for whatever reason, then it becomes somewhat unpopular,” he said.

Complicating things, President Barack Obama himself appeared to embrace the term in August.

“I have no problem with folks saying, ‘Obama cares,’” Obama said in Minnesota while he was on a bus tour of the Midwest.

“I do care,” he said. “If the other side wants to be the folks who don’t care? That’s fine with me.”

In June, House Democrats cried foul when Republicans stopped them from saying in official mass mailings that House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (Wis.) GOP budget would “end” Medicare.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) called that decision “Orwellian.”

“It is the most extreme censorship I have ever encountered,” he told Roll Call. “And it’s all because they have been taking heat on Medicare.”

Asked about Democrats vetoing the use of Obamacare in mailings, Connolly stayed true to the principle of his objections on the Medicare language.

“I believe we should not be in the business of censorship on either side. And while I object to the term ‘Obamacare’ as deliberately pejorative, I would nonetheless support your right to use it, if I can paraphrase Patrick Henry,” he said.

The name “Obamacare” harks back to “Hillarycare,” the moniker opponents to President Bill Clinton’s health care proposal attached to it in reference to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s role in crafting the plan.

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