- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Advocacy groups that oppose the health care overhaul bill are taking aim at House Democrats who support President Obama’s signature policy item, pouring money into television ads attacking vulnerable lawmakers in conservative-leaning districts.

While the bigger players keep their powder dry and await Wednesday’s announcement by Mr. Obama on how to proceed, conservative groups such as the 60-Plus Association, an alternative to AARP, is attacking 18 Democrats in their home districts for writing “backroom deals” and is asking them to start over.

“It’s our job to remind the congressmen who they really serve - the people,” said Bob Adams, executive director of the League of American Voters. “Americans believe in second chances. We’re offering the congressmen that chance, but we’re just getting started.”

The League of American Voters is airing ads designed to counterbalance pressure rank-and-file Democrats are facing from their leaders on Capitol Hill. It has ads up in the districts of 11 lawmakers who voted for the bill and plans to hit 19 others.

Over the weekend, the White House and Democrats on Capitol Hill defended using reconciliation, a complicated procedural tool that circumvents the chance for a Republican filibuster, suggesting that’s how they’ll proceed. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday that Mr. Obama’s proposal will be “much smaller” than the legislation that previously passed the House and Senate, according to Fox News.

Major players in the previous ad war, including overhaul supporters such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and AARP, are staying quiet for now.

AARP pledged to reduce the political pressure on lawmakers with hopes that doing so would allow them to work together.

“We promise to make no new statements, send no new letters, run no new ads about health reform, and we are urging all other interest groups to do the same,” AARP Chief Executive Officer A. Barry Rand said ahead of last week’s bipartisan health summit.

“Let’s turn down the volume on the outside noise so that our leaders might actually listen,” he said.

But of course, they won’t stay quiet indefinitely. Mr. Rand stressed that failure isn’t an option and that AARP will fight to pass health care reform.

Some groups are focusing more on lobbying now than televised campaigns.

The National Right to Life Committee is talking with House members about the abortion language in the Senate’s health bill. America’s Health Insurance Plans is trying to get out its message that health costs are rising not because of insurers, but because of the underlying medical costs.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which supports passing a public insurance plan favored by liberals, is aggressively searching for support of the plan. It has compiled a petition of 30 Democratic senators who support the public option and is airing online ads pressuring other Democrats to sign on.

Wednesday’s announcement from Mr. Obama is expected to send the debate in a new direction. A spokesman for one group that has already spent millions on advertising on the reform issue said they’re in “limbo” right now, awaiting the formal announcement of the Democrats’ plans.

Meanwhile on Monday, billionaire investor Warren Buffett said on CNBC that the Democrats’ health bills don’t do enough to address rising costs that are hurting business and that he would start over on the effort, a call Republicans had made.

“I would try to get a unified effort, say this is a national emergency to do something about this,” said Mr. Buffett, who supported Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. “We need the Republicans, we need the Democrats. … We’re just going to focus on costs, and we’re not going to dream up 2,000 pages of other things.”

He said he prefers the Senate bill to the House bill, but favors creating new legislation that does more to lower costs and generates more public support.

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