August Now Looms Even Larger In Already Heated Health Care Debate

Thursday's announcement from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, (D-Nev.) that the full U.S. Senate would not consider health care legislation until after the August recess will likely make the next month even more heated and critical in the reform process.

August is normally Washington's off month, but in the hours after Reid's comments, partisans on both sides of the debate were pressing forward.

The Democratic National Committee released an ad targeting Republicans from trying to "kill" reform, while Rick Scott, head of Conservatives for Patients Rights, was reading the last rites for the public option. "I am very confident, after meetings on the Hill this week, that if Congress does not pass a health care bill with the public option before Labor Day, the public option is dead," Scott wrote in a memo to allies.

While Reid's announcement was interpreted by some as a political setback, operatives had been preparing themselves for the deadline to be missed for several weeks.

Democratic groups pushing for reform are set to execute a massive campaign -- involving media buys, grassroots efforts, and other traditional political functions -- designed to give lawmakers cover for a more progressive bill.

"We'll have targeted campaigns in states across the country, from Indiana and Maine to Washington and Michigan," said Lori Lodes, a spokeswoman for the Service Employees International Union. "We'll be knocking on doors, going to town halls, writing letters, making phone calls -- everything possible to make sure the members of congress know that health care reform must happen this year."

The progressive-leaning Health Care for American Now has a major push planned too, and is hinting that it will up its efforts during the recess.

"We'll just knock on more doors, make more phone calls, send more letters and emails, hold more events, and set up more delegation visits," said Jacki Schechner, National Communications Director for the group. "That's what we built this campaign to do. A little extra time is just the chance for the grassroots to get a lot louder."

The Democratic National Committee, meanwhile, will continue its ad campaigns, an aide said, "call[ing] out conservatives for fighting against the concept of reform, regardless of the cost to our lives and our future."

The other side of the aisle is gearing up as well. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a multi-million dollar ad campaign planned against Democratic-constructed reform.

"The basis behind the campaign is the issue of the public plan and there is still a good chance that the public plan will be in the legislation," said Blair Latoff, a spokesperson for the Chamber. "It is still in the House bill. So we are going to continue our efforts in August expressing our opposition to the public plan both in rallies and ad campaigns."

The conservative grassroots effort has been equally robust. An aide to Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Va.), confirmed that the Virginia Democrat has received far more communiqués opposing the president's plan and specific proposals than he has received in support.

"Our 'con' column is a lot more than the 'pro,'" the aide said. "There have been hundreds of people who are against the plan or any specific part of it compared to dozens for it. And that was only in the last week."

There won't be an absence of specifics to fight over in the coming weeks. Reid said the Senate Finance Committee will mark up its legislation before the August break -- so the Senate can vote on it once its members return to town. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber remains on schedule to consider a bill before the break.

Going forward, strategists predict that attention will center on the House bill, which is widely considered not quite ready for prime time specifically because of insufficient cost-cutting measures.

One thing that remains to be seen is how long Blue Dog Democrats will continue to withhold their support, particularly within the Energy and Commerce Committee. And progressives aren't entirely enthused with the current legislative outlines, either, although for the time being they are taking solace from the commitment the House bill makes to wellness, prevention and new frameworks for negotiations with pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment makers.

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