House Republicans are planning an interest-group strategy to try to stop a health care bill and will spend the next three weeks arguing that the Democrats' measure will be a bad deal for small businesses, senior citizens, and women and children.
With Republican lawmakers vastly outnumbered in the chamber, party leaders say their best strategy is to sway the public against Democrats' health care plans. The best way to do that, they say, is to synchronize their messaging to focus on specific groups that could suffer from effects of the bill.
"What we want to do in the coming weeks is have all 178 members redouble their efforts to take the case against a government takeover of health care to the four corners of this country," House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence said in an interview. "When we speak more in concert, our message tends to break through more effectively."
Time is running out for Republicans to derail the legislation as Democratic leaders in both chambers work to merge the three House bills and two Senate bills. While Republicans in the Senate hope to slow the debate and use amendments to alter the final bill, procedural rules in the House make Republicans there virtually irrelevant.
"What we have here is a desire to recognize that we are approaching some kind of a culmination point in this debate," said Mr. Pence, of Indiana. "They've gone from regular order to smoke-filled rooms so there's no real way of knowing when [the final bills] are going to emerge."
Mr. Pence said his side of the aisle has broken down the three health care bills passed out of the House and their implications on seniors, families and businesses. They plan to highlight these themes in subsequent weeks by holding press conferences and town-hall meetings along with organized floor speeches and media appearances.
House Democrats continue to hammer their GOP counterparts for lacking an official plan, though individual Republicans have introduced legislation. Consistently labeling Republicans the "party of no," Democrats say the American people are on their side.
"The American people are so smart," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, told reporters last week. "I see some of the polls this week, 62-31 they support a public option."
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican-turned-Democrat, took aim at his former party on "Fox News Sunday," calling it "a party of obstructionism."
"You have responsible Republicans who had been in the Senate, like Howard Baker and Bob Dole and Bill Frist, who say Republicans ought to cooperate," Mr. Specter said. "Well, they're not cooperating."
Also Sunday, White House officials took a wait-and-see approach to the negotiations in Congress, declining to draw any lines in the sand on such matters as a public insurance plan, the insurance industry's antitrust provisions, or either capping or taxing "Cadillac" insurance plans.
"There will be compromise. There will be legislation, and it will achieve our goals: helping people who have insurance get more security, more accountability for the insurance industry, helping people who don't have insurance get insurance they can afford, and lowering the overall cost of the system," senior adviser David Axelrod said.
When Mr. Axelrod was asked on ABC's "This Week" whether President Obama would sign a bill that ends the antitrust exemption for the insurance industry and allows caps on premiums, he responded only: "We'll see what Congress does."
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, refocused their attention Sunday on the president's role in the national debate.
"We're still waiting for the president's plan," Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation." "You know, he gave a joint session speech to Congress where he repeatedly talked about his plan, said if you like what you have, you can keep it."
The Senate plan, he said, violates one of the central promises Mr. Obama made in that speech by adding $250 billion to the national deficit.
"So far the president has let Democratic leaders in Congress basically run the show to the exclusion of any constructive Republican suggestions, which I think could be a way out of this in a way that would actually reduce the costs and make health care more accessible to more people, which ought to be our focus," Mr. Cornyn said.
Mr. Pence said Republicans' messaging effort mirrors the coordinated approach they took during the debate over the president's budget, which they said "spends too much, taxes too much and borrows too much." Though Democrats passed the $3.6 trillion proposal, Mr. Pence said, the strategy was successful.
He said House Republicans have "the highest degree of unity" on health care, which he credited in part to an active August recess.
Asked whether Republicans were engaging in tactics they have previously described as fear-mongering - notably, when Democrats warned that efforts by the George W. Bush administration to reform Social Security would harm seniors - Mr. Pence said it's "about educating the public."
"Abraham Lincoln said, 'Give the people the facts and the Republic will be saved,'" he said. "This is really about making sure they understand the real implications of what Obamacare will mean to them and their families."
• Tom LoBianco contributed to this report.