WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the billionaire Koch brothers on Wednesday of being 'un-American" for spreading headline-grabbing "lies" about President Barack Obama's healthcare law.
Speaking on the floor of the Senate, the Nevada Democrat blasted ads by Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group backed by David and Charles Koch. The ads feature patients discussing insurance cancellations and costs.
"Those tales turned out to be just that: tales, stories made up from whole cloth, lies distorted by the Republicans to grab headlines forming political advertisements," Reid said.
Reid in particular denounced a television ad featuring a leukemia patient who said she would die without medication and blamed the cancellation of her previous policy. Another ad showed a woman saying her policy costs rose $700 a month.
Koch Industries Inc, the brothers' oil and gas conglomerate, fired back, saying the Kochs were not responsible for the ad by Americans for Prosperity and calling Reid's remarks "disgraceful."
In its statement, Koch Industries said: "It is disgraceful that Senator Reid and his fellow Democrats are attacking a cancer victim as part of their campaign against Charles Koch and David Koch."
Americans for Prosperity also struck back at Reid, saying in a statement: "Instead of admitting that the health care law is a bad deal for Americans, Senator Reid has chosen to attack the brave men and women who are sharing their personal stories about ObamaCare."
The ad scored "two Pinocchios" out of a possible four by the Washington Post's fact checker Glenn Kessler, who said the commercial did not give a full accounting comparing the patient's old plan with a new one.
Higher out-of-pocket costs with a new plan could be offset by lower monthly premiums, Kessler wrote, adding that "over the course of the year, the difference in the costs could well even out." Still, he noted the "emotional anguish" anyone with cancer may face.
The Koch brothers have used their vast fortune to fund numerous conservative causes.
Returning to the Senate floor later, Reid ripped into the Koch brothers again, saying: "It's too bad that they are trying to buy America, and it's time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty and these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine."
On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced that some 4 million people had signed up for health insurance through exchanges under the 2010 Affordable Care Act.
Democrats are still struggling to defend the 2010 law after a rocky rollout of the insurance exchange, while Republicans are eager to point out its flaws and are pushing to repeal and replace it.
The success or failure of the healthcare changes are likely to be a major campaign issue in the congressional elections in November and possibly the 2016 presidential race.
Shortly after Reid spoke initially on the Senate floor, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, began a news conference with reporters by criticizing the healthcare law and vowing to "continue to highlight the devastating impact of the president's healthcare law."
He cited White House reports of small-business employees facing higher health insurance premiums and higher costs for small-business owners, making it more difficult for them to expand their businesses.
"That's why we need to repeal this law," said Boehner, who had a rare one-on-one meeting with Obama in the Oval Office on Tuesday.
The healthcare law aims to broaden access to health insurance and reduce the number of uninsured people in the United States.
Critics say it allows too much government interference in the healthcare industry, hurts employment and is forcing some people to lose health insurance coverage they may have liked.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Thomas Ferraro; Writing by Susan Heavey and Peter Cooney; Editing by Bill Trott, Gunna Dickson, Richard Chang and Eric Walsh