GOP opposition more informed on health care bill

Byron York:

Pick your average member of the House of Representatives, one who has a lot of work to do but hasn't been deeply involved in crafting the massive health care makeover bill. Who knows more about what's in that bill -- Mr. Average Democrat, or Mr. Average Republican?

Bet on the Republican. For weeks now, GOP lawmakers have been studying the Democratic health care bill, and for months before that, they studied preliminary Democratic plans. Many rank-and-file Democrats, on the other hand, have been so ill-informed about what their leadership has been doing that it was only last week, when the party offered a five-hour class on the bill's contents, that some members began to grasp the details.

That means the Republicans hold an advantage going into the health care ground war that will unfold during the August recess, when lawmakers go home to visit with voters. "We learned from the stimulus, and the other side didn't," says one savvy GOP aide. "They pushed through a bill as fast as possible so that no one knew what was in it. Very early on, there was a clear goal that Republican members of Congress would know what was in this [health care] bill and what its impact would be."

House Republicans had six private health care seminars in May, two in June and three so far in July, with the ones this month dealing specifically with the Democratic proposal on the table. GOP officials estimate about three-quarters of the Republican members have gone through the sessions.

"This is not a bill you can skim," says Rep. Dave Camp, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. "You have to read it again and again and find new nuances. It's a big, complex piece of legislation."

Camp calls the August break "absolutely critical in terms of communication." Speaking by phone from the small town of Stanwood, Mich., where he was meeting with constituents, Camp told me voters are hungry for the details of the health care proposal; people come up to him in the grocery store and ask him how this or that measure would work.

Republicans want voters to know as much as possible. "If I went to most people and said there was an unelected health choices commissioner, with the power to override state law on what should or should not be included in an acceptable insurance plan -- most people would not know that," says Camp. They wouldn't like it, either.

To help make their case, GOP lawmakers have created something they call the "Prescription Pad" on their Ways and Means Committee Web site, offering regular updates on the bill's contents. But they know August is their real chance to get the message out. There's a debate going on among Republicans."...

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Most Democrats including the President appear to be ill informed about this legislation. Some are blase about their ignorance. The Republicans need to make them pay for that ignorance and the recess will give them that opportunity.

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