By David Espo
WASHINGTON: Hit with a multimillion-dollar barrage of televised attacks, Democrats in tough re-election races want credit for trying to fix the problematic parts of the health-care law at the same time they claim bragging rights for its popular provisions and allege Republicans will reverse the crackdown on insurance company abuses.
It’s a tricky, high-stakes political straddle by lawmakers who voted to create the law, which Republicans intend to place at the center of their campaign to win control of the Senate and hold their House majority.
In one of the year’s most closely watched races, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., recently aired a commercial that shows her in numerous public settings last fall sternly telling President Barack Obama to keep his promise to let people keep their current health plans if they want to — and then taking credit after he took steps to make that happen.
“I’m fixing it and that’s what my bill does, and I’ve urged the president to fix it,” Landrieu says in the ad.
It ends with a screen that reads: “The result: People now allowed to keep health-care plans.”
The three-term lawmaker aired the ad after a televised attack by Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch that has spent more than $25 million on similarly themed commercials in several races.
Hundreds of miles away, in Arizona, an outside group that backs Democrats stepped in after Americans for Prosperity targeted Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick.
Referring to HealthCare.gov, which had a wretched debut last fall, a House Majority PAC ad said Kirkpatrick “blew the whistle on the disastrous health-care website, calling it stunning ineptitude, and worked to fix it.”
At the same time, Kirkpatrick “fought to hold insurance companies accountable, so they can’t deny coverage for pre-existing conditions or drop it when they get sick,” said the commercial, referring to popular elements of the law already in place.
The response comes as Democratic Party leaders look eagerly to outside groups to keep pace with the Koch brothers’ early campaign barrage, while acknowledging they have been neither fast nor aggressive enough inside the Capitol in countering Republican attacks and demands for the law’s repeal.
“We have to stop being so defensive,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, recently tapped to lead an effort inside the Senate to respond publicly to GOP attacks.
Democrats also say public opinion points the way to a strong campaign rebuttal to Republicans.