Democrats Accuse GOP of Distributing ‘Hoax’ Memo

Posted March 19, 2010 at 4:47pm

A memo that House Republicans distributed to the press and cited on the House floor that purports to come from Democratic staff is a “hoax,” Democratic aides said Friday.

The memo, which was posted on the Big Government Web site this morning and on Politico, was later forwarded to the press, including Roll Call, by Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Roll Call did not publish the memo. Steel declined to comment on the memo.

Politico pulled its story after Democrats complained it was a fake.

Democratic leadership aides ripped the memo as a hoax and a lie concocted to try to distract from the substance of the health care bill.

Nadeam Elshami, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Stephanie Lundberg, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), issued a joint statement Friday evening condemning the memo and earlier attacks on the House floor accusing Democratic Members of trading votes for high-level appointments.

“Opponents of health reform can’t win on the merits of their arguments so they must stoop to acts of desperation to deny Americans an honest and truthful debate,” they said. “The latest examples of this came today with the maligning of Democratic Members on the House Floor, and the circulation of an apparently fraudulent memo that was falsely attributed to Democratic staffers. These two incidents are exhibits Y and Z in a long line of evidence showing that opponents of health reform will do anything and say anything to stand in the way.”

Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, called the memo “a new low that is reminiscent of the Nixon Dirty Tricks squad.”

The alleged memo purports to tell Democratic staffers to avoid talking about the “doc fix,” a plan to prevent a massive cut in doctor reimbursements under Medicare. Republicans note that Democrats plan to pass the doc fix later this year, which they said would wipe out the savings that Democrats are touting their bill will achieve.

House Republican leaders dodged a question about the authenticity of the memo at a press conference, saying all they knew was what they had read in the press.

“The appropriate question there really is ask the reporter who wrote the article alleging it was a hoax,” Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. “I know nothing more than what I read in Politico.”

“I think the question that you really ought to be asking is the hoax on the American people presented by the budget assumptions made on this bill,” Cantor said.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), ranking member of the Budget Committee, said: “Who cares about a memo? The point is the Speaker is telling us she’s going to do the doc fix. That means that is part of this. That means its part of health care spending this year. That means all of this claim of deficit reduction is false. That means this effort will increase the deficit.”

Partisan tension over the debate also spilled onto the House floor on Friday, when Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) delivered remarks suggesting that a pair of retiring Democrats plan to trade their votes for plum government posts.

Chaffetz cited unnamed reports in warning that Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) would support the bill in return for the top job at NASA and that Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) was eyeing the NATO ambassadorship as the price of his vote.

Gordon quickly came to the floor to register his outrage. Chaffetz initially stood by his claim and his right to level it on the floor, saying, “It’s important that we pay attention to those types of things.” But after Gordon pressed his case that the charge was baseless and demanded that Chaffetz name his source, the Utah Republican folded. “I have no reason to doubt your word,” Chaffetz said.

About an hour later, Tanner arrived on the floor to deliver an impassioned response of his own. “Emotions are high,” he said, “but we can disagree on public policy matters agreeably. And to take an unsubstantiated, untrue, total fabrication and to repeat it on this floor in my judgment is an affront to this institution.”

Tory Newmyer and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.