The Looming Ad War over Health Care Reform

If you thought the debate over health care reform was heated now, just wait until Congress goes home for recess—especially if you live in a so-called swing district. Pretty much every lobby with a stake in health care—big business, insurance, pharmaceutical companies, both political parties, among others—are planning a major blitz to try to shape the outcome of the bill. And that means you likely won't get a reprieve from the back and forth over cost and the so-called public plan anytime soon. For lack of a better word, it's going to be a total ad-pocalyse, along the likes of what we saw during the final weeks of the presidential campaign last fall.

So far, President Obama's allies have been the most vocal. Organizing for America, the grassroots remnants of President Obama's presidential campaign, launched ads several weeks ago targeting moderate Democrats—much to the chagrin of some in the party. OFA won't say how much it's spent so far, but safe to say, it's been a bundle, and the group plans to spend even more in the coming weeks on TV ads and other grassroots efforts to sway the public into putting pressure on lawmakers to pass a bill. Ditto for other Obama allies in the fight, including the labor movement and progressive groups like—all of whom are planning major campaigns during the recess. The big message: We can no longer afford to wait on health care reform. All told, Obama allies have spent at least $10 million so far advocating for the president's health care proposal, according to the Campaign Media and Analysis Group, which tracks ad buys.

Those opposed to the bill have spent a little over half that much—but that disparity likely won't last. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobby in Washington, launched a $2 million ad campaign a few weeks ago lobbying against a plan to include a government-run insurance option in the bill, which it plans to extend during the recess. Other conservative groups, including the innocuously-named Americans for Prosperity and Conservatives for Patients Rights, plan to spend millions on ads raising questions about how we're going to pay for all of this. That message that will be echoed by the various GOP party committees, which plan TV hits of their own targeting vulnerable Dems up for re-election next year. On Wednesday, Rep. Pete Sessions, who chairs the House GOP campaign arm, announced they plan to target 80 House Democrats up for re-election next year—a huge number. Over the recess, they'll go after Dems for endorsing "Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama's government takeover of the healthcare system," as Sessions put it. Pelosi and "government takeover"—those are words that are sure to motivate the GOP base—at least that's what Republicans hope. But it's unclear whether this will help the GOP make in-roads among independents and moderates, which is where the reform fight is really centered.