Another conspiracy theory bites the dust

ANOTHER CONSPIRACY THEORY BITES THE DUST…. The far-right American Spectator claimed to have a juicy scoop on Monday. It reportedthat HHS had evidence that the Affordable Care Act would increase medical costs, but hid the report until last week — as opposed to before the votes in Congress — in order to ensure passage of the law.

A variety of right-wing blogs were pretty excited about the report, and Republican congressional offices began pushing the story as legitimate. As a rule, when this happens, it’s a big hint that a story isn’t true.

And in this case, the rule proved reliable. The HHS conspiracy fell apart pretty quickly. NBC’s Mark Murray did some digging and found that it’s “pretty clear that the Spectator report isn’t accurate.”

1. The Office of the Actuary didn’t receive the language of the reconciliation bill until March 18 (when the legislation was posted), so the Spectator’s assertion that HHS had a copy of the Actuary’s score a week before congressional passage — on March 22 — doesn’t make sense.

2. Past scores from the Office of the Actuary came out AFTER passage of the legislation. For the House bill that passed on Nov. 7, 2009, the Actuary’s score came out on Nov. 13. And for the Senate bill that passed on Dec. 24, 2009, the Actuary’s score came out on Jan. 8, 2010. This most recent Actuary report is dated April 22.

3. Given points #1 and #2, it’s hard to see how the Actuary’s score was available before the CBO’s, which came out on March 18.

What’s more, Chief Medicare Actuary Richard Foster weighed in directly, calling the right-wing reporting “completely inaccurate,” and there’s no evidence to suggest otherwise. Given that Foster is an independent official with no incentive to lie, his denial is pretty compelling.

There are two other angles to keep in mind here. First, while the timeline proves that the Spectator‘s report is wrong, it’s also worth noting that the motivation doesn’t even make sense. There was no reason for administration officials to try to hide the information — lawmakers had already seen, considered, and debated the same data before the vote. Why would anyone bother to hide conclusions from Congress that Congress had already seen?

Second, the irony of the right-wing conspiracy theory is that Republicans are accusing Democrats of engaging in a cover-up that Republicans were actually guilty of. It went largely overlooked at the time, but when Bush/Cheney and GOP lawmakers passed Medicare Part D in 2003, the Bush administration had evidence that the bill would cost far more than advertised. Bush administration officials deliberately suppressed the report, hiding evidence from Congress, in a move the Government Accounting Office later described as “illegal.”

It takes a special kind of chutzpah for Republicans to falsely accuse rivals of launching a cover-up after Republicans themselves launched a cover-up.

Nevertheless, given how spectacularly wrong the Spectator and its allied outlets were, HHS would like to see some corrections. We’ll see.