"Top White House aides gave Senate Democrats a recess battle plan on Thursday, arming the lawmakers with tips for avoiding disastrous town hall meetings while showing them polling on popular aspects of the reform effort.
Senior White House adviser David Axelrod and deputy chief of staff Jim Messina told senators to focus on the insured and how they would benefit from “consumer protections" in the overhaul, such as ending the practice of denying insurance based on preexisting conditions and ensuring the continuity of coverage between jobs.
Story Continued Below
They showed video clips of the confrontational town halls that have dominated the media coverage, and told senators to do more prep work than usual for their public meetings by making sure their own supporters turn out, senators and aides said.
And they screened TV ads and reviewed the various campaigns by critics of the Democratic plan.
“If you get hit, we will punch back twice as hard,” Messina said, according to an official who attended the meeting.
The hourlong session was the last opportunity for Democratic leaders and the White House to prepare senators for what will be a crucial month in shaping public opinion on health care. With no final legislation to promote, senators have expressed concern about dealing with questions and criticisms about the almost $1 trillion overhaul. The spate of confrontational town hall meetings have raised the stakes.
“They are just helping us understand the fringe that is trying to mess up our meetings,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
Senators were urged to zero in on the insured, who need to be convinced that there is something in the bill for them. “The next five weeks is about closing the sale with the insured population,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.
Axelrod and Messina also presented polling that showed the insurance reforms were popular with women and rural residents.
“There is unprecedented insurance reforms — things that have never been done,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a member of the Health, Energy, Labor and Pensions Committee, which approved its health care bill last month. “In our committee, we had to vote, and 10 Republicans voted against all those insurance reforms — every single one of them. Not many people know that but if I have anything to do with it, they will know it.” -- Carrie Budoff Brown