THE AP, THE CBO, AND A $500 BILLION GAP…. The latest report from the Associated Press on health care reform, published just one hour ago, includes this paragraph:

On Tuesday, House Democratic leaders pledged to meet the president’s goal of health care legislation before their August break, offering a $1.5 trillion plan that for the first time would make health care a right and a responsibility for all Americans. Left to pick up most of the tab were medical providers, employers and the wealthy.

It doesn’t include a source for the “$1.5 trillion” figure, but an earlier version of the story quoted an unnamed “House Democratic aide.”

As the AP article makes the rounds, and gets used by activists like Newt Gingrich, named House Democratic aides “are furious” with the Associated Press, “accusing the news outlet of grotesquely inflating the price tag of the new health care bill by relying on the calculations of an anonymous aide.”

Granted, the exact price of the proposal is unclear at this point. But the AP’s report puts a $1.5 trillion price tag on reform, reports it as fact, and makes no reference to the Congressional Budget Office scoring — released 20 hours before the most recent AP piece — that pointed to a roughly $1 trillion cost over 10 years.

Brian Beutler added, “This is the sort of meme thing that can snowball into a wide misunderstanding of what, exactly, the House of Representatives is proposing.”

Quite right. Expect to see House Republicans start using the $1.5 trillion figure constantly, and holding up the AP’s reporting as “proof,” reality notwithstanding.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.