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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley April 3, 2009

Daschle didn't say seniors should accept rather that treat conditions that come with age

Some chain e-mails remind us of a bad Three's Company episode. One roommate overhears something a little wrong and leaps to all sorts of misguided conclusions. Hijinks ensue.

The latest chain e-mail sent to us from a reader puts some words into the mouth of former Sen. Tom Daschle that raised our eyebrows. Daschle, you may recall, was once President Barack Obama's choice to be secretary of health and human services. He stepped down from consideration amid revelations about tax problems, but some think his fingerprints can be seen in some of the health provisions in the economic stimulus package signed by the president in February.

According to the e-mail (read the full text here ), Daschle was quoted in a Bloomberg story saying, "Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them."

We thought that sounded a bit impolitic, and fairly callous, for a former senator to say, and so we decided to check it out.

As with most e-mail claims, it starts with a grain of something.

Bloomberg did run a story about health provisions in the stimulus package on Feb. 9, 2009, under the headline "Ruin Your Health With the Obama Stimulus Plan: Betsy McCaughey." It was a commentary piece written by Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York and an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute.

McCaughey warned that the stimulus included several troublesome provisions identical to ideas outlined by Daschle in his 2008 book, Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis. Midway through the article, McCaughey includes this paragraph:

"Daschle says health care reform 'will not be pain-free.' Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. That means the elderly will bear the brunt."

We contacted McCaughey to see which parts of this were her words and which were Daschle's.

The phrase that health care reform "will not be pain-free" is a direct quote from Daschle, she explained.  She said the sentence beginning "Seniors should be more accepting" was her paraphrasing of an argument in Daschle's book in which he quotes David Mechanic, a health care policy expert at Rutgers University, saying, "more and more of what were once seen as social, behavioral, or normative aspects of every day life, or as a normal process of aging, are now framed in a medical context. ... Whether wrinkles, breasts, or buttocks, impotence or social anxieties, or inattention in school, they all have become grist for the medical mill."

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We think it's a stretch to summarize Daschle's position as saying that seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age instead of treating them. Not treating wrinkles is one thing. Not treating, say, heart disease, is another. But that's fair enough for McCaughey to opine. This is labeled an opinion piece. The point is that these are McCaughey's words, not Daschle's.

The last sentence, "That means the elderly will bear the brunt," was her conclusion, McCaughey said.

McCaughey said she is a meticulous scholar and "I regret any misrepresentations made by others of my work or Mr. Daschle's views."

Our efforts to reach Daschle for comment were not successful.

In the chain e-mail, quote marks are shifted, clouding the issue of who is actually speaking, and the e-mail suggests that Daschle actually said that.

The e-mail begins: "Apparently, seniors are expendable — treating us is not worth the expense (unless you're a congressman!).

Then later:

Tom Daschle was credited today by Bloomberg with the following statement.

Bloomberg: "Daschle says health-care reform will not be pain free.
Seniors should be more accepting of the conditions that come with age
instead of treating them."

The e-mail ends, urging, "Please use the power of the Internet to get this message out. Talk it up at the grassroots level. We have an election coming up in one year and nine months. We have the ability to address and reverse the dangerous direction the Obama administration and its allies have begun and in the interim, we can make their lives miserable. Let’s do it!"

A few shifted quote marks make all the difference here. Instead of McCaughey's words, they become Daschle's. That kind of thing may have made for '70s sitcom gold, but here it just muddies the debate. We rule the claim in this e-mail False.

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Daschle didn't say seniors should accept rather that treat conditions that come with age

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