Amid voter anger, Obama tries a softer sell on health plan 

President Obama formally kicked off the fall campaign push promoting health care reform, touting $250 rebate checks to seniors.

But the White House effort to use health care to help Democrats in the fall midterm races is already finding lingering public dislike for the bill and strenuous opposition from Republicans.

"This debate got pretty contentious at times last year. I think you remember," Obama told seniors in Wheaton. Opponents of the bill "ran some pretty nasty rumors in hopes that it would scare folks," he said.

For Obama, the campaign season is coinciding with the first rollout of benefits from the reform bill -- in this case, a rebate check for seniors in Medicare's prescription drug benefit program that hearkens back to the rebate check politics of former President George W. Bush.

The $250 checks will go to those who fall into the coverage gap known as the "doughnut hole," in which prescription drugs are too costly for basic coverage, but fall short of qualifying for catastrophic coverage.

The federal government estimates that about 4 million seniors will get rebate checks this year -- a boon to a key demographic that consistently shows some of the highest voter turnout.

Most of the provisions in the $940 billion bill won't take effect until 2014.

Republicans in Congress, who have indicated they plan to run against health care reform in the fall, said millions of Medicare beneficiaries will not be receiving the rebates.

Opponents also say the reform bill will result in massive cuts to Medicare and force seniors out of the system.

"Seniors are particularly fed up with this legislation and that is why the White House is staging an event today aimed at convincing them they are getting a good deal," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "But seniors are right to be skeptical."

A new Rasmussen Reports poll found that 58 percent of voters want to repeal the health care reform law, while 35 percent want to keep it.

A scattered repeal effort so far has yet to gain much traction.

"You have an entire party out there that's running on a platform of repeal," Obama said at a tele-town-hall meeting. "We're going to move forward. That's why I was elected."

Even so, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was shouted at and heckled by irate Democrats at the America's Future Now conference, hosted by the liberal Campaign for America's Future.

Underscoring how opposition to the bill cuts across both parties, Pelosi faced both shouting opposition and applause as she delivered a speech thanking the group for helping pass health care reform.

Obama's event in Wheaton was the start of a major campaign push on health care being headed up by former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn and Andrew Grossman, a Democratic strategist.

Said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, "No glitzy PR campaign can hide the new health care law's higher costs, higher taxes, Medicare cuts, and payoffs to Washington special interests."

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

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