Earlier today, Politico posted what looked like a heck of a scoop: a supposedly leaked memo saying that Democrats were planning to try to permanently repeal the massive Medicare payment cut that reliably gets delayed every year, but only after getting health-care reform passed. The idea that Democrats might try to get rid of the pay cut wasn’t all that surprising. Nobody thinks the cut, as currently formulated, is a great idea. What was so incendiary was the language in the memo, which suggested that Dems were effectively trying to sneak a costly provision into health-care reform without anyone noticing:
The inclusion of a full SGR repeal would undermine reform’s budget neutrality … As most health staff knows, Leadership and the White House are working with the AMA to rally physicians [sic] support for a full SGR repeal later this spring. However, both health and communications staff should understand we do not want that policy discussion discussed at this time, lest I [sic] complicated the last critical push to pass health care reform.In other words: Yes, we know that repealing the pay cut would cost money. Can we not talk about that right now? There was even a nice handwritten touch: somebody had scribbled “important” in the margin next to the paragraph above, as if to say, “Look! This memo will be controversial if it’s leaked! Better not let it get out!”
Marc Ambinder had the sharpest, most concise analysis of the memo: “It’s never good to admit that you’ve got to fudge a bit to keep a handle on the talking points.” I was just getting ready to echo him, and then this happened:
Democrats today are accusing Republicans of circulating a fraudulent memo … 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.” “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 … 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 … “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.Josh Marshall says on TPM’s main page that he’s “not ready to call this a hoax.” For my part, I expect that by the time this post goes up, we’ll have found out that Democrats planted the memo to make Republicans look bad for trying to make Dems look bad.
Either way, if health-care reform does pass and Democrats do try to repeal the SGR pay cut later in the spring, Republicans will be in an awkward position. To remain consistent, they'll have to oppose the SGR repeal with the same vehemence they’ve heaped on this memo. That will make the American Medical Association, and probably a lot of seniors, rather angry. Imagine the sharply worded memos to come!