- The Washington Times - Monday, May 25, 2009

Interest groups are using Congress’ Memorial Day recess to step up their role in the debate over health care reform with new television ads and media campaigns in several states.

New reform proposals are expected to be released shortly after Congress returns next week.

A group of unions, once allied with Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, have spoken out against his health care reform proposal with a $60,000 advertising campaign in his home state.

His proposal, the Healthy Americans Act, would tax employer-provided health care plans.

The ads, sponsored by groups headed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, discourage other Democrats from signing on to Mr. Wyden’s proposal. Mr. Wyden argues that the plan would cost Americans less. But employers and unions don’t like losing the tax break.

Mr. Wyden sits on the Senate Finance Committee, whose chairman, Sen. Max Baucus, is drafting a proposal of his own. The Montana Democrat has spoken out against taxing all employer-provided plans but has said there should be caps on how much of the plans should be tax-free.

Television ads have a record of influence. In 1993, it was the controversial ads of fictional couple “Harry and Louise” that helped derail the Clinton administration’s health care reform plan.

Many groups - such as AARP, Service Employees International Union, Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Business - have been working on grass-roots health care campaigns for nearly two years.

Several of those groups, including SEIU and AARP, are hosting public events this week to drum up support for health care reform, among other proposals.

Another group, this one made up of faith-based organizations led by PICO National Network, is airing ads in seven states over the weeklong Memorial Day recess to encourage members of Congress to make health care reform affordable.

“We chose these swing states because we want to provide support and encouragement for the members of Congress and senators who represent them who may well determine the fate of health reform,” said Katie Paris, spokeswoman for Faith in Public Life, another one of the participating groups.

The group of organizations, largely Christian religious denominations, declined to sponsor a specific reform proposal but said it favors programs that will keep insurance choices affordable, provide access of coverage to everyone and strengthen children’s coverage in Medicaid and SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which covers low-income children not eligible for Medicaid.

The group said its interest in health care is a moral issue.

“If we value all human life, when the health of that life is at stake, we have to be on the front lines as advocates for affordable health care,” said the Rev. Cory Sparks, pastor of the Faith Community United Methodist Church in Lafayette, La., one of the groups participating. “It’s really a matter of justice.”

The ads will air in Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri and Nebraska. The group declined to reveal how much it’s spending.

Other groups working on health care campaigns include Health Care for America Now, a broad group of liberal advocacy groups and unions; Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, a group fronted by former hospital chief executive officer Rick Scott that advocates patient-doctor relationships; and Healthy Economy Now, a group that includes the pharmaceutical lobby, Families USA, AARP, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the American Medical Association.

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