From Dollars To Death Panels: How Republicans Distorted Debates On Capitol Hill

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With Thanksgiving recess now upon us, it seems an appropriate time to revisit the hysterical Republican whoppers and talking points about the Democratic party agenda that have dominated this Congress. Herewith a top-five list:

Number Five: Paul Ryan Draws Line On Graph

Back in the Spring, when Democrats were putting together the federal budget, House Budget Committee ranking member Paul Ryan (R-WI) released a much-mocked Republican alternative, which would have basically canceled the stimulus and instituted a spending freeze of sorts. The ideas in the Republican alternative budget were roundly rebuked by experts, but Ryan wasn’t deterred. Instead of accepting defeat, he unveiled some graphs suggesting that, under Republican budgets, spending would be restrained, while under Democratic budgets, it would blow through the roof.

Except his numbers weren’t based on any analysis at all. Instead, Ryan used CBO numbers through 2018 and then drew an upward-sloping line on the graph completely at random. It didn’t take long for Republicans to catch on and begin claiming that Democratic policies would make government spending half of GDP before the end of the century.Number Four: Senate Health Care Bill Will Cost $2.5 Trillion

This one’s only now catching on, and it’s a doozy. Hours after the CBO released an analysis of Senate health care legislation last week, Senate Budget Committee ranking member Judd Gregg (R-NH) released a statement: “American taxpayers are about to see an unprecedented expansion of the federal government that will cost a staggering $2.5 trillion when fully implemented.” From there, it went viral. The provenance of this number is unclear. It could have come from Michael Cannon of the CATO institute, who’d been bandying it about for a little while. Democrats do, in fact, hide some of the cost of implementing the legislation in the CBO’s 10 year window. But not $1.7 trillion (or two times the bill’s CBO cost) worth. Now it’s on the lips of every Republican in the Senate. (Relatedly, Republicans in the House claimed that an early version of House health care legislation would cost $1.6 trillion. That wasn’t true either.)

Number Three: Republicans Try Math

It seems like so long ago that the House passed far-reaching cap and trade legislation. Before they did, though, the GOP did its best to raise the specter of another energy crisis, thanks to a new, and tyrannical “light switch tax.” To underscore their point, they claimed that, based on an MIT study, cap and trade legislation could cost the average household $3,128 a year. Too bad the author of that study claimed it was all hogwash. That didn’t deter leading Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner, from repeating the number over and over again until the day the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed on the House floor.

Number Two: Inhofe Says Obama ‘Gutting Our Military’

This one needs little introduction:

His claim was based on a meme, which made the rounds in early April, that the White House’s call for a modest increase in defense spending amounted to a “defense spending cut.” Inhofe took it to a whole new level. And to add insult to injury, he was in Afghanistan at the time.

Number One: Death Panels

It’s possible that if TPM’s Eric Kleefeld hadn’t pored over every word in this rambling Facebook post by Sarah Palin, somebody else would have stumbled across it. But it’s also possible that it would have gone unnoticed, and we would have had a very different political summer. “The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care.” Her rendering, ‘death panel’, gave voice to some fringe conservatives who had been chattering about how the confluence of rationing and end-of-life counseling would lead to euthanasia. They were wrong, of course, but their wrongness was confined to the fever swamps until, with Palin’s help, it became the talk of the August town halls. In a way, when more mainstream Republicans began echoing the term, it marked the end of bipartisanship in health care reform. The uncontested winner.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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