Yesterday’s healthcare debate in the Senate Finance Committee was a dismal spectacle for so many reasons. Two public options were voted down. Sen. Baucus offered no better reason for voting against Sen. Schumer’s public option than his belief that other senators were not going to vote for it when the bill left committee. It was something less than heroic. But the last straw was when Sen. Grassley unabashedly adduced research that wouldn’t pass muster in an A.P. Government class.

Sen. Rockefeller had proposed his public option and among its other benefits he claimed it would reduce cost of healthcare reform by about $50 billion, citing the Congressional Budget Office. Sen. Grassley, in his interminable rebuttal, insisted that a public option would initiate an apocalyptic slide into a single-payer system. Except for a brief mention of an additional strain on rural hospitals, this was the whole of his argument. When asked on what research had he based this conclusion, he said there was lots, but “the only two I can keep in my head,” were The Heritage Foundation and The Lewin Group.

The Lewin Group is cited by nearly every opponent of healthcare reform and it is owned by United Health Group. According to its website, “The Lewin Group is an Ingenix company.  Ingenix, a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Health Group.” United Health Group owns The Lewin group and therefore healthcare reform should not be dictated by The Lewin Group’s research. But if Sen. Grassley has his way, this is exactly what will happen. My expectations of congress are really quite low, but I would still like to see senators, at least, cite research that has a modicum of credibility. But wait, he also cited The Heritage Foundation, and that’s a thing we’ve heard of. Today, Ezra Klein pointed out that his own remarks, specifically cited by Grassley, were taken out of context and bundled into a Heritage Foundation report. Klein was actually supporting a public option.

What’s happening here is like a policy research version of credit default swaps. The information is essentially worthless, but people keep buying it. After enough repackaging, no one really knows where it comes from or what it was originally worth. But hey, if a member of the Senate Finance Committee says it, it must be true, right?

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