STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee is on assignment in Afghanistan. I'm Steve Inskeep.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
And I'm Linda Wertheimer.
The Democrats who control Congress go home for their summer break knowing two things for sure. First, the health care legislation they're working on is under attack.
INSKEEP: Second, they cannot be certain which version of a health care bill they will eventually have to defend. A House committee is promising progress today, but Republican and Democratic negotiators on a key Senate committee now say they will not reach a deal before the summer break after all.
As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, August is just when things can heat up.
ANDREA SEABROOK: You can almost feel it, the troops lining up on the battlefield, swords drawn. But instead of facing off, they're breaking into a dead sprint away from Washington, out into the real battlegrounds: their home districts.
Representative CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (Democrat, Maryland): Many big political battles have been won and lost in the month of August.
SEABROOK: Maryland Democrat Chris Van Hollen, a member of the House leadership.
Rep. VAN HOLLEN: It has been called the Swift boat month, based on past presidential campaigns.
SEABROOK: Remember that ad against Democrat John Kerry?
(Soundbite of political advertisement)
Unidentified Man #1: He dishonored his country, and more importantly, the people he served with. He just sold them out.
Unidentified Man #2: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Rep. VAN HOLLEN: So we want to make sure that we come out of August stronger on the health care reform message.
SEABROOK: Van Hollen held workshops this week, especially for freshmen and sophomore members of the House, telling them what to expect and how to deal with the coming charge from the opposition, like this radio ad from the Republican National Committee.
(Soundbite of radio advertisement)
Unidentified Man #3: The dangerous experiment President Obama and the Democrats in Congress want just can't be the right answer. The question is what Congressman Rick Boucher will do.
SEABROOK: This ad will run in 60 districts across the country, with Congressman Boucher's name replaced with the local Democrat - 33 states. House Minority Leader John Boehner says Republicans are bringing the fight to the Democrats.
Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Democrat, Ohio; House Minority Leader): I think it's safe to say that over the August recess, as more Americans learn more about their plan, they're likely to have a very, very hot summer.
SEABROOK: Boehner says going home will only steel the resolve of his ranks.
Rep. BOEHNER: You know, I walk through airports. I go to Home Depot. I go to Skyline Chili. I've got people who stop me nonstop to voice their concerns and their outrage. And I'm going to tell you, there's a lot of outrage out there, and members are going to hear about it.
SEABROOK: Democratic leaders are arming their troops with a handy card they can carry in their pockets full of the talking points they might use with constituents. Putting you and your doctor back in charge, it says, not the insurance companies. Check it out at npr.org. Democratic leaders are also pushing their lawmakers to hold town hall meetings, gather doctors and nurses, get information out there about how the plan would work. And they also have a well-placed national spokesman on their side: the president.
President BARACK OBAMA: There'll be well-funded efforts loudly proclaiming that reform is impossible, eager to mislead people about what real health care reform actually means. The most powerful way to break through that noise in Washington is for millions of ordinary people to speak up and say you demand heath care reform now.
SEABROOK: President Obama's political organization is rallying supporters of his health care plan to counter Republican attacks and more. House Democratic Caucus Chair John Larson says Democrats are also hoping August will help them calm the recent dissention in the ranks.
Representative JOHN LARSON (Democrat, Connecticut; Chairman, House Democratic Caucus): Going home and hearing from your constituencies and getting outside the beltway and - I think will be a good dose of reality for our caucus and for everyone - for Americans in general.
SEABROOK: Larson says if the America of Franklin Roosevelt had a rendezvous with destiny, today's America has a rendezvous with reality. And reality, Larson says, is on the Democrats' side.
Rep. LARSON: 14,000 people a day are losing coverage, and that's not a Blue Dog or a progressive issue. That's an American issue.
SEABROOK: So as hundreds of lawmakers leave Washington and fan out across the country, it may look as if they're retreating from the hard fight of these last few weeks. But party leaders of both sides say now is when the real advance begins.
Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, The Capitol.