Senate Democrats Planning Big Hugs for Obamacare

Junior United States Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy addresses journalists in Budapest on January 31, 2014. The senator met with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and representatives of the Hungarian opposition. 
National Journal
Michael Catalini
Feb. 26, 2014, 4:57 p.m.

Since the Af­ford­able Care Act’s web­site rolled out in Oc­to­ber, a “parade of hor­rible stor­ies” — Sen. Chuck Schu­mer’s term, not any Re­pub­lic­an’s — in­spired GOP sen­at­ors to reg­u­larly rail against the law from the Sen­ate floor.

But now Demo­crats, led by Sen. Chris Murphy of Con­necti­c­ut, are pre­par­ing to counter Re­pub­lic­an an­ec­dotes with their own stor­ies, a move that amounts to a rhet­or­ic­al parry as well as a polit­ic­al wager that em­bra­cing — rather than run­ning from — the 2010 law will boost the caucus at the bal­lot box.

“Over the next sev­er­al months the ACA is go­ing to be­come less im­port­ant as a Re­pub­lic­an cam­paign is­sue be­cause more and more Amer­ic­ans, from young adults all the way up through seni­ors, are real­iz­ing the be­ne­fits it has to of­fer,” Schu­mer said.

Murphy, a pro­gress­ive and a former House mem­ber who ad­voc­ated for the ACA, was elec­ted to the Sen­ate in 2012. He spoke with Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id and Schu­mer about head­ing the ef­fort and has been a reg­u­lar re­cently on the floor de­fend­ing lib­er­al is­sues.

Sen­ate Demo­crats in­clud­ing Murphy, Schu­mer, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Bar­bara Box­er of Cali­for­nia, and Shel­don White­house of Rhode Is­land — none of whom faces reelec­tion this year — launched the ef­fort Wed­nes­day. Asked for a reas­on that no sen­at­ors from the class of 2008 ap­peared, Murphy in­dic­ated that some of them will be join­ing.

“This is not an ef­fort that’s tar­geted at people who aren’t up for reelec­tion,” he said. “I think you’ll see mem­bers who are up in 2014, 2016, and 2018.”

From Murphy’s point of view, it was a mis­take to shy away from the law, as some Demo­crats had done after it passed. “You know, I hope Demo­crats learned from 2010,” he said. “I think there were a lot of Demo­crats who tried to pre­tend the Af­ford­able Care Act didn’t ex­ist in 2010. They paid a price at the bal­lot box.”

The push, which will in­clude floor speeches and a so­cial-me­dia cam­paign, comes as Demo­crats strive to hold on to their 55-seat ma­jor­ity. They’re de­fend­ing seats in con­ser­vat­ive states against stiff op­pos­i­tion from Re­pub­lic­ans, who are grow­ing more con­fid­ent that they can pick off in­cum­bents in Alaska, Arkan­sas, Louisi­ana, and North Car­o­lina. Re­pub­lic­ans need a net gain of six seats to win the ma­jor­ity, and they are de­fend­ing seats in only a pair of com­pet­it­ive states — Ken­tucky and Geor­gia.

Demo­crats balked when asked wheth­er the met­ric for the Sen­ate cam­paign’s suc­cess would be noth­ing short of vic­tory in Novem­ber. One Sen­ate Demo­crat­ic aide said the ef­fort was at least in part meant to an­swer the GOP pub­lic re­la­tions on­slaught.

For his part, Murphy tried to wrest the nar­rat­ive from con­ser­vat­ive in­flu­ence and cast Demo­crats as com­mit­ted to the law, but will­ing to al­ter it as well. “Demo­crats are proud that they voted for it,” he said. “There are many that are go­ing to of­fer and sug­gest changes, but our ef­fort is only try­ing to make clear that four years in­to im­ple­ment­a­tion we’re really start­ing to see, in real terms, the be­ne­fits of the act.”

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