Yesterday, the world's biggest business asociation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, launched a $2 million ad campaign designed to "protect employer-sponsored health care." The campaign, aimed at fending off any proposal to create a "public option" for insurance coverage, represents the opening salvo in the business community's attack on health care reform. (See one ad below.)
Until now, most of corporate America has remained on the sidelines while liberal groups and unions have jammed the airwaves with ads attacking conservative Democrats opposed to the public plan option. Virtually the only ads opposing the public option so far have come from Rick Scott, a rich guy who made his money running a hospital chain guilty of epic fraud. Part of the business groups' reticence has come from disagreement on the various reform proposals, but also from an admonition from the White House and Sen. Max Baucus threatening to ban them from the bargaining table should they run attack ads before any bills were even in play. Now that the bills are on the House floor, the advertising floodgates are apparently swinging open.
All the leading busines groups, from the National Association of Manufacturers to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, have recently gone on record opposing the public option, and no doubt more ads will now follow. The Chamber said it will run ads in five states--Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Maine and North Carolina, all places where liberal groups such as Change Congress have run their own ads attacking various members of Congress for opposing health care reform.
For all the money the Chamber is pumping into the campaign, their arguments haven't changed much in 16 years. Bruce Josten, the chamber's executive VP for government affairs, said yesterday during a conference call with reporters on the new ad campaign, that the public option would "lead to a government takeover of the health care system" and that any new taxes or employer mandates would kill jobs and wreck the economy. Josten's only new tactic was to plug the alleged benefits of the current system, claiming that employers are "among the most innovative in tackling the nation's health care challenges." His proof? Employers are offering "wellness programs"!
According to the Chamber, 8 in 10 people currently love their employer-sponsored health plans, and Congress shouldn't mess with them. (Of course, the Washington Post reported today that such studies often rely heavily on healthy people who haven't had enough experience with the health care system to grow to hate their insurers the way those of us with $1,000 deductibles have. Other polls also show similar levels of satisfaction with Medicare, a sign that Americans' personal experience with government-run health care isn't so bad.)
The Chamber's ad campaign seems designed to bolster the Republican tactic of slowing down the legislative process in the hopes of kiling reform altogether. One Chamber print ad features the slogan, "Don't drag down health care reform." Much of its advertising is wrapped around the idea that when reforming health care, Congress and President Obama should "first, do no harm." Whether the ads will be effective is an open question this time around. Not only do many Americans see more harm in doing nothing, they're pretty convinced that the current health care system can't get much worse.