I mentioned last week that both CBS and Politico were forced to issue corrections on pieces they published citing inflated cost-estimates of a version of climate legislation that was never considered by Congress.
Despite immediate and forceful pushback from the Treasury Department, the Congressional Budget Office and environmental groups, solid reporting by the Wonk Room and the Washington Post, and thorough debunkings by Media Matters and Politifact, several leading GOP elected officials have begun citing the highly misleading figure.
Brad Johnson has an important piece at Think Progress documenting the process conservatives used to disseminate this misleading talking point:
STEP ONE: "News" generated by right-wing think tank.
STEP TWO: Right-wing print journalists write "breaking news" story.
STEP THREE: Promoted by Drudge, story repeated endlessly on right-wing blogs, Twitter, and talk radio.
STEP FOUR: Republican politicians, right-wing think tanks, and polluter front groups release statements of shock and outrage.
STEP FIVE: On Fox News, Glenn Beck calls President Obama a liar/socialist/Marxist/communist/fascist/racist.
Reading Brad's meticulous documentation of how this meme was disseminated, I realized that they are setting this up to be one of the major talking points in the fight against clean energy legislation in the months to come. From the looks of things, marching orders have already gone out. Eight Republican elected officials, several of whom are in leadership positions, have already begun parroting this talking point:
- Senator Lamar Alexander issued a press release saying "American families can't afford a new $1,761 yearly energy tax."
- Senator James Inhofe issued a press release claiming that "the President's own economic team said his cap-and-trade proposal would cost each family $1,761 per year."
- Senator Lisa Murkowski issued a press release stating that "At the upper end of the administration's estimate, the cost per American household would be $1,761 a year, on top of what they already pay in taxes to the government."
- 2008 also-ran Mitt Romney told the crowd at the conservative Value Voters Summit on Saturday that the clean energy legislation "would cost the average American family $1,761 a year, the equivalent to a 15% income tax hike."
- Representative Roy Blunt tweeted: "CBS reports the Obama Admin privately concluded cap & trade could cost families $1,761 a year. Same as a 15% personal income tax increase."
- Representative Fred Upton fired off a letter, which cites the $1700 figure, accusing the Treasury Department of censoring information in the FOIA release.
- House Minority Leader John Boehner said on PBS' NewsHour: "It's a cap-and-trade proposal that came through the House that we now find out from the Treasury Department would cost each American family over $1,700 per year."
- House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence copied-and-pasted the wholly discredited CBS blog post where the $1,761 figure originated into an email to supporters.
These staunch advocates of the status quo are grasping at increasingly ludicrous straws in their attempts to make Americans afraid of meaningful reform. When your position is based on ignoring science to prop up polluting industries, you have little choice but to cite misleading statistics to make your point. The problem for opponents of clean energy reform is that when Americans know the truth about the full range of costs and benefits associated with the legislation, they overwhelmingly approve -- even in districts that are generally considered conservative. As long as we don't let manufactured lies dominate the debate, support will remain strong and we'll pass legislation in the next few months.