By Paul Bedard, Washington Whispers
Senate Republicans beat President Obama to the punch. Just hours before he planned to hold an online healthcare town hall with AARP members, the Republicans told Whispers that they have already talked to 1.3 million Americans in their own nightly healthcare town halls. It's just the first step in what both Democrats and Republicans say will be a heated and very busy August recess when lawmakers and special interests groups plan to flood the airwaves, phone lines, and even county fairs with their pitches for and against Obama-style healthcare.
The GOP leadership on July 6 set a goal of talking to 1 million Americans before the August recess began, and insiders suggest that the Republicans will end the campaign by talking to nearly 2 million. Some 16 Republican senators took part in the nightly effort, participating in hourlong calls to thousands. Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander, for example, reached out to some 45,000 in Tennessee and got half of those on the phone. During the calls he took several questions on the Obama healthcare plan and the GOP alternatives.
With just a little more than a week before Congress recesses, both political parties and their surrogates are drawing up plans for the summer battle over healthcare reform. "The race will now be on to see who can get home and shape the debate at town halls and other public events," said a key GOP leadership aide. The Republicans plan to step up their warnings that the plan will cost too much, result in higher taxes, and hurt the quality of healthcare. The Democrats are planning to push their claims that the time is ripe for reform and that costs will rise unless there is large-scale reform.
Outside groups also intend to get involved. The Obama support group Americans United for Change, for example, has just cut a TV ad that accuses the Republicans of slowing the healthcare debate in order to kill reform. The ad is titled "Snail," and a spokesman said the ad is meant to expose "the GOP's 'slow it down' talking point on healthcare reform for what it really is: a concerted strategy for killing reform altogether and perpetuating the status quo for another 15 years."
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