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Health Care Rumor Gains Traction With Right

(AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)
On Tuesday, the Weekly Standard's Michael Goldfarb, citing an unnamed Senate aide, wrote that "the White House is now threatening to put Nebraska's Offutt Air Force Base on the BRAC list if Nelson doesn't fall into line."

Translation: Goldfarb is reporting that, according to his source, the Obama administration is suggesting to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska (left), who has been hesitant to support the Senate health care bill due to his concerns over abortion, that it will close the base if Nelson doesn't back the bill.

It was, the source said, a "naked effort by Rahm Emanuel and the White House to extort Nelson's vote." The White House, the source said, was willing "to close a base vital to national security" to get what it wanted.

Nelson's spokesman, as Steve Benen notes, quickly said the claim is untrue and that it represented "misinformation…coming from inside-the-Beltway partisans who only want to derail health care reform." The White House backed that up, saying "these rumors are completely baseless and false" and grew out of "a cynical, crass political game."

There was, in fact, no information supporting the claim other than the anonymous source cited by Goldfarb. But as Benen explains here, it nonetheless quickly spread among conservative pundits, including Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, and Michelle Malkin. Glenn Beck evoked "treason" in reference to the situation three times.

Then came yesterday. Reports the Associated Press: "Sen. Mike Johanns and 19 other Republican senators Wednesday called for a hearing into reports that the Obama administration used the future of Offutt Air Force Base as bargaining chip in the health care debate."

"A defense analyst said Wednesday that base closures simply don't work that way," the AP noted. "Even Johanns himself said he doesn't believe the rumors."

The reason he wanted hearings anyway, Johanns said, was that the rumor had "taken on a life of its own." The hearings, he suggested, would be a chance to clear the air.

In short: Republicans want Senate Armed Forces Committee hearings into an unsubstantiated rumor that they themselves don't believe. Meanwhile, debate over the Senate health care bill looks like it might well drag into 2010.

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