Are liberals backing down from core arguments about cost and deficit reductions in the new health care law? A leaked Powerpoint presentation put together by an alliance of prominent liberals indicates that health care reform activists are moving away from messaging that focuses on health care costs and deficit reduction.
Politico’s Ben Smith has posted a copy of the presentation, which starts by noting the “challenging” environment for reformer advocates. What’s the challenge? “Straightforward ‘policy’ defenses fail to be moving voters’ opinions of the law,” the presentation explains, and many people “don’t believe that health reform will help the economy.” Not only are voters worried about the rising cost of health care, they “believe costs will continue to rise.” It’s a frank admission that the economic argument in favor of the law has basically failed amongst voters.
So what are activists to do? The presentation suggests that when making the case for ObamaCare, advocates must reassure seniors that Medicare benefits won’t be cut (which isn’t strictly true). And it suggests they focus on the recent decision to force insurers to offer “free preventive care” (never mind that these benefits aren’t really free). But whatever they do, the final slide of the presentation warns, activists should not “say the law will reduce costs and deficit”—which is probably a smart idea given how unlikely the administration's claims about the deficit have always been.
Here’s Smith on the groups behind the message:
The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by FamiliesUSA—one of the central groups in the push for the initial legislation. The call was led by a staffer for the Herndon Alliance, which includes leading labor groups and other health care allies. It was based on polling from three top Democratic pollsters, John Anzalone, Celinda Lake, and Stan Greenberg....The Herndon Alliance, which presented the research, is a low-profile group which coordinated liberal messaging in favor of the public option in health care. Its "partners" include health care legislation's heavyweight supporters: The AARP, AFL-CIO, SEIU, Health Care for America Now, MoveOn, and La Raza, among many others.
Is the White House, which spent so much time and energy making the case for the fiscal responsibility of its health care law, going to push back at so many of its close allies for playing down its initial cost and deficit claims? Somehow I doubt it. Not when we’re already seeing evidence that the PPACA will push health insurance premiums higher starting as early as next year.
The best case that liberal health care advocates can make here is that they are simply backing off the cost and deficit claims because those arguments aren’t resonating with voters. No matter what, as Smith's piece notes, this signals a dramatic shift in messaging—one that basically concedes that, in the court of public opinion, critics have won the core economic argument about the law.