Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) slammed senators on the other side of the aisle for using a "roadmap of rhetoric" that he believes was created to demonize health care reform.
Merkley waved a copy of the 28-page memo during a June 10 Senate floor speech, calling it a plan to kill any talk of revamping the nation's health care system. The memo was authored by Republican strategist Frank Luntz, author of the book, "Words that Work."
Monday, Merkley talked to the East Oregonian about Luntz's memo and shared other thoughts about redesigning health care. Luntz's blueprint, Merkley said, seeks to pull the plug on reform efforts.
"He came out with a set of prescriptions to kill health care," Merkley said.
Luntz, a Republican pollster, had floated such questions such as "What two concepts or buzzwords would frighten you the most?" Scary phrases included "health care rationing," "one-size-fits-all healthcare," "government takeover" and others.
The memo recommended talking about delayed treatment and denial of health care, fears expressed by respondents.
Soon after the memo came out, Merkley said, those key phrases showed up in speeches by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican senators.
"These exact buzz words were the ones being used on the floor," he said. "What we're hearing on the floor are attacks on health care that came from this memo."
Luntz, who often advises Republican senators and representatives, also has promoted such phrases as "death tax" over "estate tax" and "energy exploration" over "drilling."
On an episode of NPR's "Fresh Air" in 2007, Luntz told host Terry Gross he's always been fascinated by the power of language to convince, anger and soothe. Calling himself the "Johnny Appleseed of language," he answered critics by saying he merely recommends words and phrases that provide more clarity, accuracy and simplicity in language.
Merkley isn't buying it.
"It's irresponsible," he said, "to utilize a roadmap of rhetoric that comes from polling about how to scare people."
Merkley said he believes Americans can't afford to wait to fix their broken health care system.
"When President Obama talks about the urgency of pushing forward, he's exactly right," Merkley said. "I will do everything possible to seize this moment."
An idea floated by Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) caught Merkley's interest. The concept involves cooperatives of individuals or businesses, similar to electrical co-ops and credit unions.
"I am very intrigued by the co-op concept," he said. "My team is wrestling with whether this concept could work. It's a fresh idea."
According to Merkley, Conrad's plan isn't the only notion out there worthy of consideration.
"There are hundreds of ideas and thoughts out there that are being chewed on at this point," Merkley said.
Improving efficiency of the American system is essential, he said.
"We spend 18 percent of GDP on health care compared with 10 percent for Europe," Merkley said. "We simply can't afford the same health care system we have now."