*The evolution of a lie

THE EVOLUTION OF A LIE…. John Reilly, the M.I.T. scientist whose cap-and-trade analysis has generated the #1 Republican talking point on the issue, is no doubt frustrated. GOP lawmakers have twisted his work beyond all recognition, and try as he might, Reilly, the source of the Republican lie, can’t stop the lie from spreading.

Brian Beutler wrote up this helpful timeline:

* April, 2007: Reilly and several coauthors release a paper titled “Assessment of U.S. Cap-and-Trade Proposals,” which estimates early annual revenues from such legislation would run $366 billion

* Sometime between April, 2007 and March, 2009: House Republicans get a hold of his paper, divide $366 billion by the number of households in America, and conclude, erroneously, that the quotient ($3,128) will be the average cost per home.

* March, 2009: Republicans begin using this number in press releases, citing Reilly’s study

* Shortly thereafter: The Obama administration gets in touch with Dr. Reilly and asks him to explain his study and the number — he corrects the record.

* A week or so ago: Independently, a woman who says she’s with the House Republicans calls Reilly — aware of the number, she invites him to come testify against cap and trade legislation. Reilly informs her that her number is probably wrong, and that he supports cap and trade legislation.

At that point, the story should end. But it just keeps going.

Of course, the method Republicans used to get the $3,128 was itself absurd. Brad Plumer noted that the GOP’s arithmetic “brushes off the fact that most carbon revenue would be rebated back to consumers, and that certain conservation measures could help reduce energy bills. But the actual MIT study implies that the welfare cost would be around $31 per person in 2015, rising to an average of $85 per person per year — not including the benefits of cleaner air and a habitable planet.”

But what’s especially frustrating isn’t just the bogus claim or the ridiculous policy analysis, it’s that John Reilly told Republicans that they were wrong, and they kept lying anyway.

They relied on Reilly’s scholarship, but when Reilly implored the GOP to tell the truth, they couldn’t be bothered. As a result they’ve lied in press releases, they’ve lied in op-eds, and they’ve lied, over and over again, in speeches.

Saying something that’s not true is a policy problem. Repeating the false claim after having been told it’s not true is a character problem.