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GOP accused of circulating ‘hoax’ health care memo

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UPDATE AT BOTTOM: GOP pushed ‘hoax’ memo on to reporters before it was verified: report

Second update: Rep. Anthony Weiner rips GOP on House floor for ‘producing fake memos’

The Democratic leadership in Washington, DC, has accused Republicans of circulating a “hoax” Democrat memo promising to revisit the health care issue after the reform measure has passed, in order to tack another $371 billion in costs to it.

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On Friday, news site Politico published an article — no longer available online — which stated that a Democratic strategy document showed the party was planning to reintroduce the “doc fix” it had abandoned during health reform debate last year. The “doc fix” aims to prevent further cuts to Medicare payments, and would cost an estimated $371 billion.

Politico reported that the Democrats had kept the plan secret in order not to scare off support for the current health care reform proposal. The news site also noted that Democrats had removed the doc fix from health reform in order to make the reforms deficit-neutral, which they would not have been if the doc fix had been included.

The memo, which can be viewed here, suggested some surprising tactics for Democrats to follow.

“We have increasingly noticed how right-wing fringe media are trying to pick apart the CBO score,” a passage in the memo stated. “We cannot emphasize enough: Do not allow yourself … to get into a discussion on CBO scores and textual narrative. Instead, focus only on the deficit reduction and the number of Americans covered.”

“If this were a Democratic communications person who wrote this, they should be fired, because this looks like Republican talking points,” an unnamed Democratic aide told TalkingPointsMemo’s Christina Bellantoni.

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The Politico report was quickly linked to by conservative news aggregator Matt Drudge, and appeared well on its way to being a major talking point in Washington ahead of this weekend’s vote on health care, when TPM’s Bellantoni reported that Democratic party leaders were disputing the authenticity of the memo and accusing Republicans of trying to foist a “hoax” on the public.

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

“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.

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

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As of Friday afternoon, Politico had removed its report from the Web, replacing it with a note stating, “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.”

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, who had reportedly sent out the Politico story from his office, said Friday he could not vouch for its authenticity.

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“Look, the appropriate question there really is ask the reporter who wrote the article alleging that it was a hoax,” the Republican House representative said at a press conference. “I know nothing more than what I read.”

UPDATE

House Minority Leader John Boehner pushed reporters to cover the “Democratic strategy memo” before it was verified, Greg Sargent at the Plum Line reports.

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The memo … was pushed to some reporters by the office of GOP leader John Boehner. A source forwards an email sent at 12:58 PM by Boehner spokesman Michael Steel to The Daily Caller’s Jon Ward and other reporters, with the original memo attached.

“Folks — Please read the attached draft memo addressed to `Democratic Health and Communications Staff,’ Steel wrote. “It makes it clear that Democrats want to avoid discussing issues related to the CBO score of their latest government takeover legislation because their claims don’t pass the straight face test.”

…The GOP leadership did circulate a hard copy of the memo to reporters before its authenticity had been confirmed or disproven.

UPDATE #2

According to the Huffington Post, late on Friday afternoon, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) attempted to read from the alleged memo on the floor of the House. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) responded by saying, “”That memo that he read from has no source. He will not return to the microphone to tell us what it was because he took something that was created by the opponents of health care — and there are a whole lot of them, mostly paid for by the health insurance industry — and came to the rostrum with a fake document,”

When the ultra-conservative Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) then tried to interrupt, Weiner refused to yield, stating, “”I will yield only if the person will tell us the source of the document.” What the Huffington Post describes as “a chaotic back-and-forth” ensued, until Weiner regained the floor to conclude that “what you saw just now is a microcosm for this debate.”

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