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Health Care Repeal Vote Gives Democrats A Do-Over

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Asst Minority Leader James Clyburn at a Democratic  meeting on health care repeal, Jan. 18, 2011. i i

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Asst Minority Leader James Clyburn at a Democratic  meeting on health care repeal, Jan. 18, 2011. Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS hide caption

itoggle caption Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Asst Minority Leader James Clyburn at a Democratic  meeting on health care repeal, Jan. 18, 2011.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Asst Minority Leader James Clyburn at a Democratic  meeting on health care repeal, Jan. 18, 2011.

Charles Dharapak/ASSOCIATED PRESS

A strangeness of many Democratic campaigns leading up to the 2010 midterm elections was how so many of them ignored their party's magnum opus, the new health care law.

Typically, when lawmakers and a president enact major new legislation, it goes high on the list of accomplishments that is their case for re-election.

But the health care law was so unpopular in so many quarters, many Democrats seemed to prefer to avoid the subject if it was at all possible. It seemed a distraction from what everyone said the election was really about — jobs and the economy.

Which helps explain the striking irony of what's now happening. Republican control of the House and their effort to pass a health care law repeal bill has finally freed Democrats to defend their creation.

Democrats might as well be Janis Joplin singing: "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." Being back in the minority, what do they have to lose?

Now, they are free to tout the benefits for voters and their families in the law, and that's what they're doing. It's the realization of what Rep. Nancy Pelosi said as speaker: "But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."

Though her meaning was distorted by her opponents, Pelosi was saying that once the bill actually took effect, people would see its benefits and appreciate them.

To that point, Democrats held a forum Tuesday at which they showcased numerous everyday people whose lives have been improved by the new law:

As NPR's Julie Rovner reported for Morning Edition:

Democrats, meanwhile, let others do their most impassioned talking. They held an informal hearing featuring actual people who are benefiting from some of the parts of the law that have already taken effect.

Among them was Ed Burke of Palm Harbor, Fla., who has hemophilia. His medication alone can run $18,000 a week. That's pushing a million dollars a year. Burke, who was profiled by NPR last fall, has wrestled over the years with lifetime caps on various insurance policies he'd have on the job.

"Once you have reached your lifetime cap, you would be forced to pay the rest of your health care out of pocket or to change jobs and sometimes even careers in order to have health benefits and a new cap," he testified.

But Burke told the Democratic lawmakers he no longer has to worry, thanks to the new law.

National Journal's Ben Terris put it this way:

With House Republicans reopening the health care debate in their largely symbolic vote to repeal the law, Democrats say they have been given the chance to once again showcase what health care reform can do for this country. It is, they hope, a rare second chance to correct a bad first impression.

The White House is blasting e-mails with its blog items on people like "Cathy" and "Betsey" who've been helped by the new law.

That's a contrast with the White House approach in the lead up to the midterms to not make to big a deal out of the health care law.

While many Democratic House members didn't go out of their way to market the new law, either, the White House has come under criticism for not doing more last year to defend the law.

That view was captured in something Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) said in this excerpt from the National Journal story:

"I just wish the president had had all of you over to the East Room from the moment this debate began, and just day after day after day had the cameras on you and Americans like yourself," Rep.Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, told the guests at the event. "Because I don't think we'd have any further explaining to do to the American people on a debate that got so distorted and unfair."

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