The death panel that won't die

Sorry, but five moderate Democrats dissing Obamacare does not a trend make

Published August 9, 2013 2:30PM (EDT)

"Death panels," the conspiratorial meme that Politifact awarded its "Lie of the Year" four years ago, just won't die. This time, the myth is being revived by the the Hill, a non-ideological Capitol Hill newspaper that should probably know better. Simon Maloy has already taken down the paper's use of the phrase, but what's perhaps more troubling is the newspaper's larger argument: that Democrats are suddenly turning against Obamacare, and especially the Medicare cost-saving panel it created.  That doesn't really ring true.

The article has had its likely intended effect, however, snatching a Drudge Report link, a Rush Limbaugh shout-out, and links from all over the conservative blogosphere (and even some from liberal sites), and racking up thousands of social media shares.

But the first bit of the Hill's evidence, a late-July Wall Street Journal Op-Ed from former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, deserves an asterisk since he's allegedly being paid to fight the Independent Payment Advisory Board by insurance companies that oppose it. (Dean defended himself thusly: "I dare say some of the clients think [the Op-Ed] is great, but I don’t write stuff because the clients like it. I write stuff because I believe it.”) He also gets several things wrong about IPAB, but that's another matter.

The remaining evidence that the board is "facing growing opposition from Democrats" is that a single Democratic senator, Arkansas' Mark Pryor, and four Democrat House members recently signed onto a bill to repeal its powers. It's not particularly surprising that a small number of mostly moderate-to-conservative-leaning Democrats would oppose IPAB, considering that 39 House Democrats initially voted against the Affordable Care Act in November 2009.

It's also worth noting that three out of four House Democrats are from Arizona, and three are freshmen, suggesting their decision may have more to do with the specific politics of their district or state (anti-IPAB lobbying has been particularly fierce in Arizona) rather than growing opposition across the party. And the Arizona members range from fairly conservative (Ron Barber) to fairly progressive (Kyrsten Sinema), further suggesting something unique about the state. But what unites them all is narrow margins of victory in 2012 and tough battles in 2014.

Members facing tough reelection fights (two of the four House districts voted for Mitt Romney, as did Pryor's Arkansas) often break with their party to show their independence -- this is hardly shocking news. And Pryor has actually been a surprisingly vocal supporter of Obamacare, despite the strong conservative bent of his state. "It actually is working in a lot of ways," Pryor said of the law yesterday.

Are Democrats abandoning Obamacare in droves? Nope, sorry.

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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Death Panels Democrats Mark Pryor Media Criticism Obamacare Rush Limbaugh The Drudge Report The Hill