Despite being weeks away from signing health care reform into law -- and with major impasses remaining between negotiators -- Democratic officials are gearing up for a massive re-selling of the legislation once it is passed.
The White House, together with Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress, insists it has learned the lessons of the August recess and won't allow conservative critics who malign the bill to go unopposed.
"The White House has no intention of relaxing and will undertake an aggressive effort to explain to the American people how reform provides stability and security for people with insurance, affordable options to those without and cuts costs for families and small businesses," Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told the Huffington Post. "We welcome a debate with the opposition that wants to repeal the entire bill including the insurance reforms. There are only two entities in the country that want to continue to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions: The insurance industry and the Republican Party."
However, the sell could prove to be complicated. While there will be plenty of provisions that proponents of the legislation can tout, legitimate doubts remain as to whether a sufficient echo chamber exists to make the message effective. Groups that once had major stakes in the health care debate -- predominantly unions and progressive groups -- feel jilted by the process. And they are hesitant to devote additional resources to praising a bill that they believe falls short.
"If the White House thinks progressives will now evangelize about how great this sell-out bill is, they are nuts," said Adam Green, founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee. "Instead, there will be retribution for Democrats who sold out their constituents on the public option. [Sen.] Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) [a hesitant supporter of the bill] is among the many who should enjoy their last year in office."
Added a union official whose organization has had significant quarrels with the dropping of a public option for insurance coverage and a proposed tax on high-cost health care plans: "Outside groups are going to have trouble selling a bill as reform when they got hurt in the process and their memberships are disappointed in the final result."
One group that could prove influential in pitching health care legislation, post-passage, is Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform organization that already has put millions of dollars behind the bill. But it is not entirely certain, at this juncture, what HCAN will look like once reform becomes law. "There are serious discussions within our leadership about HCAN continuing to play a role in helping promote the benefits of reform and making sure implementation is done effectively," said the group's spokesperson Jacki Schechner
Lacking allied voices and faced with unflinching GOP opposition, the burden on the White House and congressional Democrats to sell a completed health care package is undoubtedly steep. But a strategy is already materializing. A Senate leadership aide tells the Huffington Post that a five-pronged video series is in the works to be released shortly after the bill is signed into law. The big push is to put people who will immediately benefit from the legislation on center stage. Expect Facebook groups and community-centered events, sources said.
Among the policy provisions that Democrats feel are easiest to pitch are the funds set to go to preventive care, the elimination of the practice of discriminating against pre-existing conditions and the benefits of the overall package for small businesses. Lawmakers, meanwhile, will be provided with tailor-made bullet points to use when they are back home or on TV -- with the benefits of the bill broken down along lines of income, gender, age and other subsections.
"We have no excuse for not taking this and running with it," said the Senate aide. "It's also fair to say... we have seen coverage about how people still might be confused and don't know what's in the bill. We need to fill that void."
House Democrats, meanwhile, are planning to go even more on the offense, contrasting their accomplishments against the alternative principles of reform put forward by House Republicans. A traditional campaign is being planned as well, including continued -- if not accelerated - reliance on health care town halls (more than 3,000 have been held since last spring), in addition to email, online and phone efforts. Leadership and committee chairs, meanwhile, are slated to take on an additional burden, traveling around the country to select districts for health-care-specific events.
All of this is geared towards filling the media void that will be created once the congressional battle over health care reform ends. Democratic Party advisers warn against complacency once the president signs the bill into law. "The naturally tendency of the legislative process is to move on," said pollster Mark Mellman. "You pass legislation, breathe a sigh of relief, and move on to another bill and stop talking about that which is already done. That can't happen here."
The party, from the top on down, has heeded the warning. "One hundred percent agree [with Mellman]" said a House Democratic aide. "And once there is one bill everyone is talking about, we will a unified voice and be able to focus more clearly on the positives of the legislation."