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.”