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The upcoming Supreme Court decision on health care is a painful reminder to Democrats that Americans favor some elements of the massive law aimed at extending medical insurance to more than 30 million Americans but the far-reaching overhaul has never gained broad approval.
"I’m amazed at the high negatives," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Republicans have done a good job demonizing the bill, and evidently we haven’t done a good enough job explaining it or people haven’t paid enough attention because it’s a complicated piece of legislation."
Democrats point to the more popular provisions — the law’s banning denial of coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions, allowing children to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26 and reducing Americans’ Medicare prescription drug costs by closing the "donut hole."
The main issue for the court is the constitutionality of the individual insurance requirement. Opponents argue that Congress lacked the authority under the Constitution to force Americans to buy insurance.
If the court strikes down the law, many of the more popular elements are gone, said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb. Asked if Americans are aware of that, he said, "Probably not, but they will be."
Former Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said the administration and the party’s congressional leaders should have focused on a pared-back but bipartisan health care bill with the more popular elements.
"That would have been a game-changer," said Taylor, who lost in the Republican wave in 2010. "Just leave it simple like that, something you could explain to the public. But they missed that opportunity."
Obama’s ambitious approach on health care turned the summer of 2009 into a cacophony of angry town hall meetings in which voters confronted lawmakers. In the summer of 2010, Obama struggled with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Last summer, the president was mired in negotiations with Congress over increasing the nation’s borrowing authority that pushed the country to the brink of default and provided fodder to critics who argued that Obama was weak.
Former Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, said Obama and Democrats need to put the economic outlook in context — gone are the recession days of losing 700,000 jobs per month and a nation on the verge of a second Great Depression. The country is moving forward, he said.
He was reminded of something former President Bill Clinton once said: "Sometimes the problem with Democrats is that we don’t know the difference between an issue and a message." Edwards said Democrats can’t just debate the issue, they need to debate the broad message.
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