Wednesday, April 22, 2009

GOP stumbling in health care fight - Carrie Budoff Brown

by Carrie Budoff Brown -

Republicans look across the health reform battlefield and see the Democrats organized, energized and flush with cash — with several groups lined up to promote the president’s plan, and a message honed by years of preparation.

Then they look into their own camp — and get nervous.

There’s no Republican plan yet. No Republicans leading the charge who have coalesced the party behind them. Their message is still vague and unformed. Their natural allies among insurers, drug makers and doctors remain at the negotiating table with the Democrats.

So Republicans now worry the party has waited so long to figure out where it stands that it will make it harder to block what President Barack Obama is trying to do.

The void on the right has been so vast that a millionaire health care entrepreneur named Rick Scott stepped into it as the unlikely face of Republican opposition. His record isn’t spotless, having lost control of Columbia/HCA, then the country's largest hospital company, in 1997 amid a Medicare investigation. (Scott was not charged with any wrongdoing.) But he is the only one so far to put up money.

Now running a chain of urgent care clinics in Florida, Scott plans to spend at least $5 million to push a limited-government, free-market approach to medicine. He has assembled a staff of 12, hired the Virginia public relations firm that assisted Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, bought six weeks of radio and TV ads, and commissioned a poll by Republican strategist Tony Fabrizio.

He shared the data with members of Congress last week, and visited Grover Norquist’s Wednesday meeting of conservatives the week before to screen segments of a forthcoming documentary on the Canadian and British health care systems.

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