BOSTON — President Barack Obama's health care overhaul is coming under renewed attack as some of the nation's leading conservatives gather for a New Hampshire summit thick with presidential implications.
Several potential Republican White House contenders — among them Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — headline a conference Saturday in Manchester, N.H., hosted by the conservative groups Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity.
Scheduled speakers also include real estate mogul Donald Trump, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Utah Sen. Mike Lee and New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. The gathering highlights the role of Koch Industries, the giant conglomerate headed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
The Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity has already spent millions of dollars on health care-related attack ads aimed at Democratic senators in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Alaska, Colorado, Iowa and elsewhere. That's made the Koch brothers a prime target for Democratic criticism.
The summit comes as prospective presidential candidates begin to step up appearances in key states ahead of the 2016 presidential contest, even though New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation-presidential primary isn't planned for another two years. The speakers are expected to bash the Democratic-backed health care overhaul, a central issue in the GOP's midterm election strategy despite reports of strong enrollment figures.
The Obama administration announced this week that enrollment in the health care law has grown to 7.5 million Americans, a figure that exceeded expectations and gave Democrats a surprise success after a disastrous roll-out. It was welcome news for Democrats who've been forced to defend their support for the unpopular law derided by critics as "Obamacare."
As potential presidential candidates jockey for position, the stakes are high for the November midterm elections, where Republicans are fighting to claim the Senate majority. The shift would fundamentally transform the final two years of Obama's presidency.
In a conference call Friday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., insisted that "Democrats are not running away from the Affordable Care Act."
Democratic National Committee spokesman Mike Czin noted that Republican opposition to the health care law was the foundation of the GOP's unsuccessful political strategy in 2012. He said that the debate has changed now that the law has been implemented and millions of people are enjoying its benefits.
"That's a debate that we're going to have and we're eager to have," Czin said.
At the same time, Van Hollen, who leads House Democrats' campaign arm, called for Republicans to defend their support for a GOP budget plan introduced this week that would repeal the health care law, transform Medicare, reintroduce the "doughnut hole" for prescription drug costs and enact deep cuts in education.
"Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire are supporting an agenda that hurts middle-class families, hurts women, and will benefit billionaires like the Koch brothers," Van Hollen said.