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Dems Jump on PolitiFact Health Care Claim

Dems Jump on PolitiFact Health Care Claim

By Erin McPike - December 20, 2010

Democratic leaders and the White House are rejoicing over PolitiFact's assertion that "the biggest lie of the year" is the idea that the new health care reform law is equivalent to a government takeover of health care.

The White House and Democratic congressional offices redistributed the story widely on Friday, and White House adviser Stephanie Cutter blogged about it on the White House's Web site.

After laying out some of the biggest points PolitiFact makes, Cutter notes, "It is also worth noting that this is the second year in a row that PolitiFact's ‘Lie of the Year' revolves around the Affordable Care Act -- last year it was ‘Death Panels.'"

Several months before PolitiFact offered its decision, the White House had an unlikely ally in former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and former heart surgeon who explored a 2008 presidential race.

Frist told RealClearPolitics in an October interview, "Those who call the law a federal government takeover are wrong." He added, "Care will continue to be delivered by non-government physicians and nurses working in non-government hospitals and facilities."

PolitiFact is a non-partisan project of the St. Petersburg Times and is designed to examine the statements of officials and influential leaders in Washington, D.C. Reporters and researchers assess the honesty of major statements and determine whether they are true or false or somewhere in between.

In a lengthy article published late on Thursday evening, PolitiFact rehashes how the Republican Party settled on the talking point that President Obama's health care reform effort equaled a government takeover of health care. It was a suggestion by pollster Frank Luntz.

After noting that Democrats removed the public option from the bill, and therefore the biggest governmental intrusion offered in the reforms, the article states, "But as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn't let facts get in the way of a great punchline." It goes on, "And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry."

Editors of the Florida-based political site go so far as to say that the takeover propaganda "was a significant factor in the Democrats' shellacking in the November elections."

Indeed, in his interview with RCP, Frist suggested, "Republicans will not repeal the fundamentals of the new law. Because of the law's unpopularity with so many hard-working, centrist voters, who see their health cost and taxes continuing to rise, the mantra of ‘repeal and replace' resonates at election time."

In offering their evidence, the site's writers point out that while health insurers will be subject to more regulations, the changed system is still based in free market principles. They note that in addition to the absence of the public option, the government will not take over hospitals or doctors' offices. And they point out that a majority of citizens will continue to get their health insurance through private insurers, who will in turn insure more Americans than before.

PolitiFact asked Republican leaders for backup on their claims about why they believe the new law is a government takeover, but a spokesman for incoming Speaker John Boehner simply reiterated the belief without providing a reason for it.

The site gives a tally of how many times the phrase was used both officially and politically, and found that the Republican National Committee's Web site used it more than 200 times.

It also points out that while Democrats tried to fight back, leaders in the party conceded that their messaging efforts were too unruly and uncoordinated to work. Indeed, a majority of respondents in national polling say that the law represents a government takeover of health care.

Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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