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Both parties wield health care law to their advantage

Used as an issue in campaigns

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President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is as healthy as ever as a campaign issue. Both Republicans and Democrats are using it to their fullest.

Far from ending the debate over President Obama’s health care law, last month’s Supreme Court ruling has only stoked the partisan battle over the issue, with both parties taking to the airwaves and the Internet to try to frame the landmark decision ahead of November’s elections.

The law itself remains as divisive as ever, and most voters are still not certain what’s in — or what got left out — of the massive Affordable Care Act. For Democrats, the strategy is chiefly about telling voters the benefits they will gain as the law goes into full effect by 2014. Republicans are predicting disastrous consequences for the federal budget and for consumers.

With the nation’s largest super PACs running dozens of ads oriented toward health care in key House and Senate races, millions of dollars are likely to be spent over the next four months trying to win the message battle.

“Obamacare cuts Medicare spending by $500 billion, gives a board of unelected bureaucrats the power to restrict seniors’ care and raises taxes by half a trillion dollars,” a female narrator says in a television ad launched this week by American Crossroads GPS, targeting Sen. Jon Tester, Montana Democrat.

The prominent Republican super PAC will spend $2.5 million on its newest trio of ads attacking Mr. Tester, along with Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Tim Kaine, the former Democratic National Committee chairman running for Senate in Virginia.

A television ad launched this week by American Crossroads GPS targeting Montana Sen. Jon Tester. photo/YouTube

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A television ad launched this week by American Crossroads GPS targeting Montana ... more >

The fundraising arms for House Democrats and Republicans have doled out millions of dollars to buy ad time for the fall, and health care is certain to take a center stage after both committees unrolled ads about the law in key races this month.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, which oversees House campaigns, pressed its message that the law cuts Medicare spending and will cause family premiums to rise, slamming Reps. Lois Capps, John Garamendi and Jerry McNerney, California Democrats, in television ads that began this month.

“Time to repeal this mess,” a woman texts to her sister in one of the ads aimed at Mrs. Capps. “Can we repeal Capps?”

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee highlighted the law’s new Medicare benefits, running Internet ads in seven California, Illinois, Maryland and New York swing districts that also warned voters that House Republicans planned to vote to repeal the law one more time. They delivered on that promise last week.

One spot aimed at Rep. Mary Bono Mack, California Republican, introduces a woman named “Carla.” “Carla knows the breast cancer screening she got saved her life,” the narrator says. “Carla doesn’t know that her congresswoman, Bono Mack, may vote to repeal the law that added preventative coverage to Medicare.”

The ads also blast Republicans for protecting insurance companies in their quest to repeal the law — one of Democrats’ favorite lines of attack. “The DCCC continues on offense with an aggressive campaign of advertising targeting vulnerable House Republicans that expose them for protecting insurance companies over middle class families,” the committee wrote in a memo last week.

The health care law carried more new regulations for insurers than most other players in the health care industry, such as requiring them to cover Americans regardless of their age or health, placing limits on how much they can spend on overhead and requiring them to publicly disclose large premium hikes.

Campaign ads aren’t known for their scrupulous regard for the truth, but analysts say the massive law offers extra opportunity for both sides to distort it by selectively choosing which parts to showcase.

“This is a bill that is easy to characterize from one perspective or another because it is so vast,” said Christopher C. Hull, a former Georgetown professor who recently left to start a company that supplies online campaign tools.

With polls showing that about half of Americans oppose the law while a smaller percentage support it, Republicans have an advantage with voters — as long as they keep framing it on their terms, Mr. Hull said.

“It’s not an 80-20 issue, but it’s a 70-30 issue and that’s pretty good,” he said.

Democrats have been less willing to bring up the health care law in races for the Senate, which, unlike the House, has never voted on repealing it.

But Republicans vying for Senate seats in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Virginia are accusing their opponents of supporting a government takeover of health care, even though the law will largely work through private coverage by giving Americans insurance tax credits.

Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, the leading candidate for the GOP nomination to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, vowed to “stop the government takeover of health care by repealing Obamacare” in a television ad that aired in June.

Former Sen. George Allen, challenging Mr. Kaine in Virginia, said in a radio ad that Mr. Kaine supported “Obamacare—a government takeover of health care.” And Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has said Sen. Brown cast the deciding vote on the “government takeover of health care.”

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Paige Winfield Cunningham
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