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Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - The public relations battle over President Obama's signature health care law has simmered long past the point when it became law more than three years ago.

But in the days and weeks ahead, a critical deadline looms for implementation of the law, and the battle for public opinion is heating to a boil.

As the Obama administration nears the Oct. 1 deadline to establish health care exchanges in all 50 states, the White House and Republicans are exchanging barbs and revving up outreach efforts to make their case to the public in the most highly partisan policy battle in the president's 4½ years in office.

Less than 24 hours after the GOP-controlled House voted to delay both the individual and employer mandates of the law - a move that has no chance of passing in the Senate -- Obama went on the attack Thursday to plug some of the early successes of his health care overhaul, while slamming GOP lawmakers for continuing their efforts to repeal his landmark legislative achievement.

Obama used a speech that was billed by his aides as an opportunity to tout one of the early successes of his health care law - more than 8 million Americans will receive $504 million in rebates from their insurers as a result of a provision in the law - to make the case to Americans that the GOP was doing little more than making "political hay" with their continued opposition.

"We've got a lot of problems in this country and there's a lot of work that Congress needs to do...and yet we're re-fighting these old battles," Obama said. "Sometimes I just try to figure out why. Maybe they think it's good politics."

But implementation has been marked by bumps. The latest hiccup came a little more than two weeks after the White House announced that it would delay until 2015 the requirement that businesses with more than 50 employees provide health insurance to their workers or pay a penalty. And the landmark legislation has remained largely unpopular with Americans. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journalpoll published last month, 49% of respondents said they thought the health care overhaul was a "bad idea," while 37% said it was a good idea.

Obama didn't speak directly to the delay in the employer mandate, but he lamented that his health care overhaul is facing the same sort of political resistance that Social Security and Medicare - two broadly popular programs today - faced when they were introduced.

Not long after Obama spoke, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took the Senate floor to rebut the president's pitch. "Well, Mr. President, the reason why this issue is still being talked about is because Obamacare is a disaster," he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans are gearing up their constituent outreach on the issue.

Supporters, including the pro-Obama group Organizing for Action, have aired commercials trumpeting the rebates, small business tax credits and free preventive care visits that have been spurred by the plan. In the coming days, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will step up their outreach with a more personal touch.

On Friday, Rubio will attend a roundtable with business owners to discuss the impact it will have on their companies.

Mark McHugh, the president and CEO of Gatorland, a theme park and wildlife preserve that will host the roundtable, said in an interview that he remains concerned that the law will lead to a spike in premiums. McHugh, whose family owned business covers 80% of health insurance costs for full-time employees, said uncertainty about costs has led him to put off new hiring.

"It's getting to the point where we can't bring on any new employees, because we don't know what premiums will be," McHugh said. "It's hampering our growth plans."

On Saturday, Del. Donna Christensen, a non-voting Democratic House member from the U.S. Virgin Islands, will host the first of an eight-state outreach effort sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the health care changes with constituents.

Christensen said that both Democratic lawmakers and the White House have fallen short on plugging the benefits of the law and were outflanked by Republican "misinformation" in the public relations battles

"We were drowned out," Christensen said. "We are trying now to make sure we can drown them out as we move forward."

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