Key White House allies are dramatically shifting their attempts to defend health care legislation, abandoning claims that it will reduce costs and deficit and instead stressing a promise to "improve it."Didn't they sell this monstrosity on how it was going to reduce costs and deficits? Well, forget all those claims that they made during the debates over the bill. Pretend they never made those claims.
The messaging shift was circulated this afternoon on a conference call and PowerPoint presentation organized by Families USA — 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 confidential presentation, available in full here and provided to POLITICO by a source on the call, suggests that Democrats are acknowledging the failure of their predictions that the health care legislation would grow more popular after its passage, as its benefits became clear and rhetoric cooled. Instead, the presentation is designed to win over a skeptical public, and to defend the legislation — and in particular the individual mandate — from a push for repeal.
The presentation concedes that groups typically supportive of Democratic causes — people under 40, non-college-educated women and Hispanic voters — have not been won over by the plan. Indeed, it stresses repeatedly that many are unaware that the legislation has passed, an astonishing shortcoming in the White House's all-out communications effort.
"Straightforward ‘policy’ defenses fail to [move] voters’ opinions about the law," says one slide. "Women in particular are concerned that health care law will mean less provider availbality — scarcity [is] an issue."
The presentation also concedes that the fiscal and economic arguments that were the White House's first and most aggressive sales pitch have essentially failed.
"Many don’t believe health care reform will help the economy," says one slide.
The presentation's final page of "Don'ts" counsels against claiming "the law will reduce costs and deficit."
The presentation advises, instead, sales pitches that play on personal narratives and promises to change the legislation.
The presentation also counsels against the kind of grand claims of change that accompanied the legislation's passage.Translation: None of those promises that we were making last year are true. Please forget that we ever said them. Sure, we passed a bill that y'all hate, but please give us another chance so that we can apply those glorious legislating skills that allowed us to pass this bill that you can't stand to improving it since we know it's a real stink bomb that voters can't stand.
"Keep claims small and credible; don’t overpromise or ‘spin’ what the law delivers," it says, suggesting supporters say, "The law is not perfect, but it does good things and helps many people. Now we’ll work [to] improve it.”
As David Freddoso reminds us, we're a long way from when Obama was indulging in this bit of braggadocio,
“If Republicans want to campaign against what we’ve done… that is a fight I want to have.” – Barack Obama on health care, Jan. 14.