Dems: Memo On Medicare Changes Isn’t Ours — It’s A GOP ‘Hoax’

March 19, 2010 10:39 a.m.

Democrats today are accusing Republicans of circulating a fraudulent memo that claims to be sent to “Democratic health and communications staff” and which suggests the majority party leadership wants to make big changes to Medicare next year after health care passes.

A senior Democratic leadership aide told TPMDC in an interview the memo, obtained and printed by Politico and leading the Drudge Report this afternoon a few days ahead of the health care vote Sunday, is “a hoax.”

[READ THE MEMO HERE]“We have checked with every Democratic office, no one has ever seen it. It did not come out of a Democratic office,” the aide said, adding that media outlets printing the memo have not checked with leadership offices if the memo is authentic. A second Democratic leadership aide confirmed the memo was not sent by the Democrats. A third Democratic aide also said the memo is fake, citing the “draft” stamp and saying no one uses such things.

“If this were a Democratic communications person who wrote this, they should be fired, because this looks like Republican talking points,” the third Democratic aide told TPMDC.

The memo alleging the changes commonly known as a “doc fix” would be politically damaging to Democrats, who already are holding together a fragile coalition to get the needed 216 votes Sunday.

The Politico items quotes from the memo as saying, “We cannot emphasize this enough: do not allow yourself (or your boss) to get into a discussion of the details of CBO scores and textual narrative. Instead, focus only on the deficit reduction and number of Americans covered.”

“This is an unethical underhanded dirty trick by Republicans to try and distract from important debate on health care reform,” the senior Democratic leadership aide said.

No sources interviewed for this story could positively assure that there were no plans to do a doc fix, though the senior aide told me that “It hasn’t even been discussed.”

Late Update: I asked House Minority Leader John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel, who sent reporters the memo this afternoon after the Politico item was posted, about the accusation. Here’s his response: “The underlying fact is the Democratic leadership is going to move a doc fix, they are going to spend another $300 billion. If not, why did AMA endorse the bill?”

Politico published this note this afternoon, removing the memo after we first posted this piece:

An earlier post in this spot detailed what was purported by Republicans to be an internal Democratic memo regarding the upcoming health reform vote Sunday. Democratic leadership has challenged the authenticity of the memo. POLITICO has removed the memo and the details about it until we can absolutely verify the document’s origin.

Later Update: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was asked why the “doc fix” wasn’t included in the legislation at her weekly press conference this morning.

Her response:

Well, we have been including it in legislation for a long time, because it’s not about a doctor fix, it’s about our seniors or anyone who relies upon Medicare to have access to physicians, that they be in their region and in their program.

So this is again, you call it the doctor fix, but it is really about access to health care for Americans. It’s not in this bill, but we will have it soon. And we have made a commitment to do this. This is very important.

A reporter followed up with a question about the cost and adding to the deficit.

Well, we will see how we advance the bill.  But last year, when we did our budget, we had a number of issues that were not part of pay as you go.  They were a CR, the sustainable growth rate, which is what you are referencing; they were middle class tax cuts; and the AMT.  And that is what we are, that’s what we have addressed.  As we go forward, and it will be soon, we will address that, because it is necessary mostly for our seniors, but anyone who has access to Medicare services.

Third Update: Stephanie Lundberg, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says the memo is not credible. “It’s not a Democratic leadership memo and it didn’t come from the committee and it is certainly being presented that way,” she tells TPMDC.

And, indeed, the memo reads as guidance to rank and file members–and those sorts of talking points tend to come from leadership.

“No House or communications staff has seen it,” Lundberg said.

The memo was blasted out to reporters after it first appeared on Politico by Republican leadership aides.

Fourth Update: GOP leaders were asked about our story and said the memo isn’t important in a press conference this afternoon.

Fifth Update: Leadership lodges an official complaint in a statement we posted here.

Final Update: Let’s take a step back and evaluate what we know. Here’s TPMDC’s tick-tock.

Additional reporting by Brian Beutler

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