HUMANA PULLS GOP LEADERSHIP’S STRINGS…. During yesterday’s Senate Finance Committee debate on health care reform, a frustrated Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) noted that the private insurance industry is “running certain people” in the Senate.

It’s demonstrably true. Consider this week’s controversy surrounding Humana, one of the nation’s leading private insurers. The company opposes policymakers finding cost savings though reducing unnecessary spending in Medicare Advantage — it would undermine their profits — so it began lobbying its customers with misleading propaganda. Because Humana receives a whole lot of public funds, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services instructed Humana to stop its taxpayer-subsidized misinformation campaign.

Republicans threw a fit on Tuesday, and ratcheted things up late yesterday.

The rhetorical war over an alleged attempt by Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and the Obama administration to “muzzle” insurance companies critical of their health care plan intensified Thursday, with Republicans accusing Democrats of violating federal guidelines and threatening to filibuster a host of executive branch nominations. […]

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, top Senate Republicans demanded that HHS immediately lift the “gag order” and warned that they would filibuster any HHS nominees until she does so.

According to Roll Call, the administration has five pending HHS nominees awaiting Senate approval, and five more vacancies awaiting nominations. The entire Senate Republican leadership team wants to block any and all consideration of these nominees until Humana is allowed to start using tax dollars to mislead seniors again.

“This is pretty simple,” a senior Democratic Senate aide said. “All the GOP spinning in the world can’t hide the fact that Republicans continue to protect big insurance companies who mislead seniors. This latest attempt is bizarre and untrue pushback — CMS has always said providers can communicate with their beneficiaries as long as it’s done in an accurate and truthful way. The letter from Humana clearly wasn’t — it was both false and misleading. CMS did the right thing protecting seniors from these scare tactics.”

GOP lawmakers generally avoid acting like they’ve been bought and paid for, which makes this week’s tantrum in support of Humana propaganda so foolish. We’re talking about an insurer, which has seen its annual profits soar nine-fold this decade, and which recently had to settle fraud and racketeering cases. McConnell & Co. are going to the wall to fight for its ability to engage in publicly-funded lying?

As of last night, the Obama administration said it’s ignoring the Republican leadership’s demands. Here’s hoping officials stick to their guns on this.

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.