Nancy Pelosi's final press conference as speaker of the House -- the gavel changes hands in 25 hours -- kicked off Democrats' fightback against the mostly-doomed repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Pelosi left it to Rep. Rosa De Lauro (D-Conn.) to express the view of Democrats that the repeal bill, a campaign promise of the GOP, is a stunt.
"This repeal of health care reform is political theater," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro. "It's a kabuki dance... repeal of health care reform is not going to happen."
Pelosi and the Democrats who joined her onstage stressed the most popular elements of the bill, such as a ban on denying health insurance based on pre-existing conditions. That led one reporter to ask whether the unpopular mandate, which goes into effect in 2014, was negotiable.
"If you're going to have a Patient's Bill of Rights, you have to have comprehensive health care reform," said Pelosi. "Otherwise you're just giving license to the insurance companies to cut people off."
Again and again, Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, and the other Democrats at the pressure employed a conservative argument against repeal. They drafted legislation that, according to the CBO, would cut the deficit. Republicans could not promise that. Everything Democrats supported, Pelosi said, would have to pass the test of "whether it creates job, strengthens the middle class, and reduces the deficit."
"They're going to employ budget gimmicks to try and hide the cost of their actions," said Van Hollen. "They're going to engage in Enron-type accounting to argue that repeal won't have that much of an impact on the deficit. They're going to rely on flim-flam."
More from Hoyer: "It seemed to me there were two compelling messages: We need to grow the economy and create jobs, and we need to do something about the deficit and the debt."
So that's the argument: HCR repeal might poll well, but they're going to attack the GOP over how much it costs. They're going to do so by presenting themselves as very considered about passing on debt, which is something Republicans will laugh off as long as they can get away with doing so.