Republicans target Democrats on US healthcare reform
* Democrats who backed healthcare overhaul face attack ads
* Republicans aim to oust House Speaker Pelosi
* Liberal coalition stands up for Democrats
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) – Vulnerable Democratic U.S. lawmakers who backed President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plan are being targeted with freshly cut Republican TV attack ads.
The spots hope to convince voters that the landmark healthcare measure, which narrowly won final congressional approval on Sunday, is a bad idea and that the lawmakers who supported it should be defeated in the November election.
“After all this wheeling and dealing, we still have a cost-raising, tax-increasing bill,” an announcer says in one of a number of ads by the House Republican campaign committee set to begin airing this week. “Stop the madness.”
Ken Spain, the committee’s communications director, indicated that a few dozen Democrats in the House of Representatives, many facing tough re-election campaigns, may eventually be targeted.
He dared the Democratic Party to go ahead with plans to try to defend them and build support for the overhaul.
“The more Democrats talk about the healthcare bill, the worse it gets from them,” Spain said.
With Obama expected to sign the measure into law on Tuesday, surveys show the public opposes it, by about 50 percent to 40 percent.
The legislation would expand the government health plan for the poor, impose new taxes on the rich and bar what are seen as insurance industry abuses, such as refusing to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.
Republicans have denounced the plan over the past year as a costly and misguided federal takeover.
Democrats reject that and contend public support will grow once people know more about the benefits and are trying to get that message across.
Democrats intend to highlight key elements of the healthcare bill that will take effect this year. These include providing tax credits to small businesses to purchase insurance for employees; increasing funding for community health centers and permitting young people up to age 26 to be on their parents’ health insurance policies.
Health Care for America Now, a coalition of more than 1,000 liberal groups — labor, civil rights, women organizations — is standing up for Democrats who voted for the bill.
The coalition said it would begin airing TV spots on Tuesday, entitled, “On our side,” to thank Democrats for preventing the well-financed insurance industry from killing the bill.
“These representatives were there for us, and we’re letting them know that we will be there for them,” said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling said he expects the healthcare bill to hurt Democrats in the November election.
“A lot of voters simply believe that the president and Congress should have been more focused the past year on the economy,” Jensen said. “In order for Democrats to avoid a really bad election in November, the economy is going to have to turn around.”
Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele e-mailed a fund-raising letter on Monday to rank-and-file members.
“Let’s fire Nancy Pelosi,” Steele wrote, noting that if Republicans pick up 40 seats in the 435-member House in the November election, they will take control and Pelosi will no longer be speaker. (Editing by David Alexander and Chris Wilson)