Democrats are reigniting their public relations efforts ahead of Friday’s second anniversary of the health care reform law. But the nature of the messaging renaissance also exposes the political vulnerability for Democrats, who have been outmatched in the public opinion battle by the sheer ferocity of the unabated Republican assault on their landmark achievement.
This week House Democrats held three events touting the law’s benefits, specifically for women and young adults, and broadly for the public at large. But all of the members present at these events have either been party leaders who are well entrenched in their districts or Democrats who reside in safe districts and have little reason to worry.
Thursday in the Capitol, the House’s top three Dems — Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn — celebrated the law’s two-year anniversary among a room full of friendly visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Some of them spoke out in its favor — a senior citizen was thankful the ACA closed the gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage; a small business owner said the law is benefiting his employees and a mother was grateful that insurance companies cannot deny coverage to her son, who was born with a lifelong ailment.
Despite all the benefits that their constituents will enjoy, Democrats in vulnerable or swing districts have steered clear of these events and are careful not to be seen touting their votes for the Affordable Care Act. Part of this is structural: Most vulnerable House Democratic supporters of the health care law were wiped out in the 2010 midterm.
But the story’s different in the Senate. One Democrat in a tough Senate race defended her vote by likening the law to the Paul Ryan plan that liberals detest.
Polls continue to reflect that Americans oppose the Affordable Care Act by comfortable margins. That’s partly due to widespread confusion over what the law does — surveys show that the more people are accurately informed of its components, the more they tend to like it. Regardless, thanks to a dedicated Republican messaging blitz that began well before the law passed, Dems in tough races want to keep their distance.
And Republicans continue to aggressively tar the law, eager to run against it in the 2012 elections.
The history of social programs — including Medicare and Social Security — is that the public warms up to them over time after the benefits kick in and make the scare stories about big government seem less relevant to their lives. So over the long term, Dems are likely in the clear — as long as they’re able to hold enough sway in Congress and the White House to make sure Republicans don’t repeal or dismantle its key components.
But despite the Dems’ anniversary media blitz, the law’s still a near-term political liability for some in the party. Indeed, the media blitz subtly reveals that.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.