- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August recess won’t feel like much of a vacation for the most vulnerable members of Congress.

With Democrats’ health care plan hanging in the balance and Republicans sensing a chance to put a dent in President Obama’s agenda, both sides are taking aim at conservative-leaning Democrats and liberal-leaning Republicans who will decide the fate of the health care overhaul.

“If this bill hangs out there over August recess, it will get shredded and they will have nothing,” House Minority Leader John A. Boehner told reporters last week.

Congressional Democrats promised their caucus would be prepared to fight back as they return home to their districts and hold town-hall meetings and other constituent events. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said each member was given a card explaining the plan with benefits tailored to each district.

“We seem to always be on the defensive. I think we should take the offensive,” said Rep. Bob Filner, Florida Democrat. “I hope that we have a counterattack.”

Democratic leaders — who originally hoped to pass health care reform before the break, in part to avoid targeting by activists — hit back against what they described as a “campaign of deliberate distortion” to defeat the bill.

“We’re going to make sure that health care reform doesn’t get Swift-boated during the month of August,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, said Friday in a reference to the group of Vietnam veterans who famously took aim at Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.

Mr. Obama’s ambitious agenda has stalled in recent weeks.

The $787 billion stimulus bill, which passed on the strength of Democratic votes, has not turned around the unemployment situation, and Mr. Obama is facing roadblocks for his top two domestic priorities of passing health care and global warming bills.

House Democrats are still smarting after passing their version of a global warming bill, only to have Mr. Obama criticize parts of it and have home-state newspapers editorialize against it. Conservative-leaning House Democrats, the so-called Blue Dogs, fear a repeat this summer, particularly over the outlines of House leaders’ health care bill, which includes a tax increase on wealthy Americans and the so-called “public option” that Republicans equate with a government takeover.

“I think Blue Dogs are going to have a lot of trouble when they go home because by now the American people know they didn’t want the cap-and-trade bill and they recognize that the amendment that the Blue Dogs negotiated was simply a fig leaf … so now they have less confidence that the Blue Dogs are going to negotiate anything the American people want,” said Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican.

But Republicans aren’t the only worry for the Blue Dogs.

The liberal activist group MoveOn.org is targeting them for balking at the original health care bill and demanding that Democratic leaders make changes and water down the bill from what the party’s liberal faction wanted.

The intensifying public scrutiny of Mr. Obama’s health care goals and infighting among the liberal and conservative wings of his party have put Democrats on the defensive. Mr. Van Hollen was one of a handful of leaders Friday who racheted up the rhetoric, blaming Republicans for spreading misinformation.

“They don’t have credibility on the subject of health care, so they decided they would engage in a campaign of lies,”said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, which marked up a portion of the health care bill. “They’re trying to scare the American people.”

Lawmakers are hardly the only players in the battle over health care. Helping out liberal lawmakers are several left-wing interest groups, including Health Care for America Now, which recently advised visitors to its Web site: “August is a battleground. Congress has gone back to their states on vacation without passing health care reform. They’re going to hear from their constituents. That means you and me. It also might mean the crazy, lobbyist-funded, insurance-industry-supported, potentially violent right wing.”

On Monday, a group called Americans United for Change unveiled a TV spot highlighting what it describes as Republican support for “the way things are now.”

On the other side of the aisle, groups like Americans for Prosperity are rallying supporters by asking them to sign an online petition that brags of nearly 190,000 signatures.

“I urge you to oppose any legislation that imposes greater government control over my health care that would mean fewer choices for me and my family and even deny treatments to those in need. Congress must not let government get between my family and my doctor. Please protect patient freedom and expand our health care options with real reforms — focused on patients, not on politics,” the petition reads.

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