Original Link: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0509/22853.html
By CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN
Democratic strategist Paul Begala is circulating a point-by-point rebuttal of GOP consultant Frank Luntz’s widely read strategy memo on health care – with Begala urging congressional Democrats to push back hard against “Republican Orwellian rhetoric.”
“Because they know they cannot win the argument honestly, Republicans are resorting to mendacity,” Begala wrote in the memo obtained by POLITICO. “Democrats must not let them get away with it.”
Begala argues that the Luntz strategy aims to confuse voters about which party wants reform. He warns Democrats that they risk seeing their message co-opted and a health overhaul die this year unless they aggressively confront Luntz’s tactics.
“Your job is to smoke them out,” wrote Begala, a former adviser to President Bill Clinton and CNN commentator. He is scheduled to brief Hill staff on the memo Friday.
Begala’s advice comes ahead of the Memorial Day recess when members of Congress will likely canvass voters on health care reform while back in their districts. The issue is expected to dominate the legislative agenda through the summer with House and Senate looking to pass a bill by August.
Luntz, a top practitioner of political framing, wrote a 28-page memo earlier this month arguing that Americans wanted reform and that Republicans needed to empathize with their fears over rising insurance costs. They could not just resort to a knee-jerk rejection of the ideas being pushed by President Barack Obama, Luntz wrote.
He urged his party to direct their attacks on Democrats in Congress and Washington bureaucrats.
But even as Luntz encouraged Republicans to embrace reform, he outlined a detailed strategy for defeating the sweeping overhaul Democrats have proposed. He wrote, “Republicans must be for the right kind of reform that protects the quality of health care for all Americans.”
Four House and Senate Republicans introduced the first major health care reform bill Wednesday, helping to blunt criticism that the GOP wasn't putting forward its own solutions. Even on this point, Begala suggests Democrats highlight that Republicans never made a serious effort to overhaul health care when they controlled Congress and the White House.
The Luntz paper, which received wide notice in political circles, reminded health care experts of memos written by William Kristol, a Republican columnist who helped torpedo the Clinton health care plan in 1994.
When the memo from Luntz leaked out, Senate Democrats expressed concern with the White House that the party wasn’t ready for the fight. President Barack Obama’s top strategist, David Axelrod, was dispatched to the Hill, where he met privately with House and Senate Democrats on how to talk about health care reform.
Obama introduced eight principles for health care reform in his budget released in February. But now, he’s emphasizing three: reducing costs, preserving choice and ensuring affordability.
Obama introduced the simplified approach last week at a White House event, and his communications and political operations have since run with the framework, pushing it in fundraising appeals and private meetings with lawmakers.
Calling the Luntz strategy “misleading,” Begala offers nine pages of arguments and mock scripts designed to counter it.
Democrats should “banish from your lexicon the oft-cited statistic that 48 million Americans lack health insurance,” Begala wrote. “While it is true, it has two flaws: first, it lacks emotion; second it lacks resonance. Every single working American is suffering with the high cost of health care today.”
Washington bureaucrats play the bad guy in Luntz’s memo, but insurers pick up that role in the Begala paper.
If Republicans say Democrats want the government to control health care, Democrats should say insurers play that role now, and a reform bill would require them “to charge reasonable prices and deliver quality service,” Begala wrote.
Luntz told Republicans that they must acknowledge a health crisis exists, but they should also emphasize that it would also be more of a crisis if Democrats implement a health care system that ends up delaying medical treatments.
“Having to sit in the waiting room is a nuisance,” Begala wrote. “Not being able to afford to go to the doctor’s office at all is a crisis.”
And if Republicans heed Luntz’s advice to attack the Democratic plan as “a bailout for [the] insurance industry,” Democrats should remind listeners that they want to stop insurance companies from denying or dropping coverage based on preexisting conditions.
“As we say in Texas," Begala wrote, "what chutzpah."