House Dems, with a spring in their step

HOUSE DEMS, WITH A SPRING IN THEIR STEP…. House Republicans, just two weeks after taking the chamber’s majority, went right after the Democrats’ signature domestic policy achievement of this generation: health care reform.

It comes as a bit of surprise, but Dems, the new House minority, doesn’t seem despondent or depressed — they actually seem to have a spring in their step.

In the basement of the Capitol Wednesday, House Democrats gathered to do something that would have been almost unheard of in, say, October of 2010: openly discuss the health care law they passed last March. But the House vote to repeal the law, which came courtesy of the newly-crowned Republican majority Wednesday, has turned the minority Democratic caucus into a lean, mean, health care bill-defending machine.

It was quite a change from the party of election 2010, which seemed more interested in discussing just about anything else than the landmark law that was at the center of President Obama’s domestic policy agenda and dominated political discussion for more than a year.

Reporters in the room Wednesday afternoon — part of a “bloggers row” set up by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to set the stage for the Republican-led repeal vote — noticed the change in tone on the health care law, and we asked the Democrats to explain what happened.

The simple answer, from multiple Democrats today: The law that was just a vague plan to improve the nation’s health care delivery system for much of 2010 is now beginning to go into effect, meaning that Democrats now have something tangible to defend. And thanks to the voters in November, most of the Democrats who were really wary of reform (and voted against it when it came up) are now gone.

Dems no doubt breathe a little easier knowing that, as a legislative matter, repeal isn’t going anywhere. But what we’re seeing isn’t relief; it’s an attitude that borders on confidence. Democrats actually seem to believe they have a compelling pitch to offer voters, and think that in a straight-up, honest debate over health care policy with the GOP, the public will side with them.

I talked to a couple of Dem staffers on the Hill yesterday who said they were thrilled to see the repeal vote. In 2012, the DCCC is almost certain to run ads saying, “Rep. So-and-so sided with insurance companies and voted to make seniors pay more for prescription medication … and voted to take away tax breaks for small businesses … and voted to strip children with pre-existing conditions of their protections … and voted to kick young adults off their family’s plan.”

Why it took so long for Democrats to realize there was nothing to be gained from a defensive crouch, I don’t know. Better late than never, I guess.