WASHINGTON – The memo distributed to House Republicans this week was concise and blunt, listing talking points and marching orders: “Because of Obamacare, I Lost My Insurance.” “Obamacare Increases Health Care Costs.” “The Exchanges May Not Be Secure, Putting Personal Information at Risk.” “Continue Collecting Constituent Stories.”
The document, the product of a series of closed-door strategy sessions that began in mid-October, is part of an increasingly organized Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature legislative initiative. Republican strategists say that over the next several months, they intend to keep Democrats on their heels through a multilayered, sequenced assault.
The idea is to gather stories of people affected by the health care law – through social media, letters from constituents, or meetings during visits back home – and use them to open a line of attack, keep it going until it enters the public discourse and forces a response, then quickly pivot to the next topic.
For a House more used to disarray than methodical game plans, the success so far has been something of a surprise, even to the campaign’s organizers.
“Yeah, there is a method being followed here,” said Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, who is involved in the effort, “but, really, these stories are creating themselves.”
First it was the malfunctioning HealthCare.gov website, then millions of insurance policy cancellation notices sent to individuals with plans that did not meet the requirements of the health law. Earlier this week, the House aired allegations that personal data is insecure on the Internet-based insurance exchanges.
At a congressional field hearing set for Friday in Gastonia, N.C., the line of attack will shift to rate shocks allegedly expected to jolt the insurance markets in the next two years. Coming soon: a push to highlight people losing access to their longtime physicians and changes in Medicare Advantage programs for older people.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, both members of the Republican leadership, have leaned on all 231 House Republicans. A 17-page “House Republican Playbook” walks members through “messaging tools” like talking points, social media tactics and “digital fliers”; details lines of attack; offers up a sample opinion article for local newspapers; and provides an extensive timeline on the health care law and an exhaustive list of legislative responses that have gone nowhere.
The goal, according to McMorris Rodgers, is to use all the “Republican voices we have in the House, the media markets in all the districts we represent, to take our message all over the country.”
“It penetrates,” she said. “It’s powerful.”
To Democrats, the power of the effort stems from using anecdotes to paint a fundamentally misleading picture.“There’s been so much noise and so much misinformation, and this incredible organized effort to block the notion that everybody should have affordable health care in this country,” Obama said this month, “that I think it’s important for us to step back and take a look at what’s already been accomplished, because a lot of times it doesn’t make news. Controversies make news.”
Democrats have been sharing “Affordable Care Act success stories” of ailing constituents getting health coverage for the first time, people being allowed to keep their adult children on their insurance, or consumers finding markedly cheaper insurance plans on the exchanges.