Are Republicans right to call Harry Reid a liar?

Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s assertion Wednesday that all the stories about Americans who fared poorly under the Affordable Care Act are false, is wrong on its face.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. faces reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, following a closed-door Democratic policy meeting.

Are Republicans right to call Harry Reid a liar? This question arises in the wake of Senate Majority Leader Reid’s statement on the floor of the Senate Wednesday regarding horror stories about American’s experience with Obamacare.

“All are untrue, but they’re being told all over America,” said Senator Reid.

“All”? Republicans have leaped on this as a clear untruth of its own. Some have wondered aloud if the mainstream media will call upon Democrats to disown Reid’s comment, as it asked if Republicans would repudiate rocker/provocateur Ted Nugent after he campaigned for the GOP gubernatorial candidate in Texas.

Reid has a history of whoppers, according to other conservatives. Remember in the presidential campaign, when Reid said in an interview with the Huffington Post that Mitt Romney hadn’t paid taxes for 10 years? That was rated “Pants on Fire” incorrect by the fact-checking organization PolitiFact.

“Once a month, Harry Reid says something that would be a career-ender for your average Republican,” said Jim Geraghty of the right-leaning National Review this week.

Well, Reid’s assertion that all the stories about Americans who lost coverage, or had to pay more, or had to find new doctors under the Affordable Care Act are false, is wrong on its face. Any big change in social policy such as Obamacare will roil the status quo. While it provides benefits for many who didn’t have them, it also creates categories of losers whose situation will be worse off. For instance, people who live in rural areas with little medical competition, and make just above the threshold for government subsidies of their premiums, are quite likely to face steep premium hikes.

In fact, that statement is so off that Reid knew it and walked it back that same day. He returned to the floor and said he was focusing on anti-Obamacare ads produced by Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a political group that has spent more than $30 million campaigning against Obamacare in recent months.

AFP gets lots of money from wealthy brothers Charles and David Koch. Reid referenced the Kochs by name.

“I can’t say that every one of the Koch brothers’ ads are a lie, but I’ll say this ... the vast, vast majority of them are,” said Reid.

This statement is partly true, partly not. Reid appears to have taken his cue here from Democratic bloggers and activists who have challenged many of the facts presented in AFP ads. In particular they have taken issue with an AFP-financed spot running in Michigan in which a leukemia patient says her new Obamacare coverage is “unaffordable” due to higher out-of-pocket costs.

The women’s health premiums have actually fallen under Obamacare, according to reporters who checked into her situation. They’ve gone down enough so that she’ll likely pay less, or about the same, for her health care even if her out-of-pocket expenses are higher.

“The bigger story here is that, in order to sell these Obamacare ‘horror stories,’ AFB needs to either shield the full stories form comprehensive scrutiny or actively mislead about them,” writes the left-leaning Greg Sargent on his Plum Line blog at the Washington Post.

That’s just one ad, though. Reid said the “vast majority” of AFP ads are a lie. That’s still a clear overstatement, according to Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler. For this he gave Reid two Pinocchios on his four Pinocchio rating scale.

Reid “would have been on safer ground if he dropped the harsh rhetoric and had simply said that many of the ads have serious problems and even rely on actors, not real people,” Kessler writes.

Underlying this spat over Reid’s accuracy are pent-up tensions regarding his role as majority leader and the upcoming midterm election. Republicans say Reid has run the Senate like an autocrat, swatting away their attempts to propose legislative amendments on the floor while curtailing the power of the filibuster.

Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters this week, went so far as to compare Reid to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

Reid, for his part, may be worried his days in power are dwindling. Right now polls indicate that it’s a better than even chance that Republicans will win control of the Senate this November. If so, Reid would be supplanted by the current minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky.

Reid’s “unacceptable rhetoric” and “astonishing behavior” are signs that Democrat’s are desperate, Senator McConnell said in a Fox News interview Thursday.

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