The unwitting Republican validator of the day is Sen. Johnny Isakson, the conservative Georgia Republican whom Democrats -- and President Obama -- are using to squash rumors that the emerging health care consensus will empower "death panels" to decide who lives and who dies.
"I just had a phone call where someone said Sarah Palin's website had talked about the House bill having death panels on it where people would be euthanized. How someone could take an end of life directive or a living will as that is nuts," he told the Washington Post. Isakson agreed that the policy in question involved voluntary counseling about end-of-life options. All this, he said, expands people's ability to choose.
At today's town hall meeting, President Obama referenced the "death panels" and mentioned that Isakson had written the language in question. Obama's language was incautious but not inaccurate. He said that Isakson "very sensibly thought this was something that would expand people's options."
The problem is that Isakson's langauge is a little different than the Medicare rule included in the House's "tricom" mark. Isakson wants Medicare to pay for the process by which people draw up a living will or transfer their power of attorney to someone else. He says he opposes "mandatory" counseling by doctors and claims that the House bill would "incentivize" doctors to provide such counseling. Isakson is correct -- the House bill would indeed provide incentives for doctors to discuss a broader range of end-of-care options when someone qualifies for Medicare. The implied fear is that people wouldn't be of sound body or mind and wouldn't be scared into choosing an option that would hasten the end of their life.
In reality, the Senate language and the House bill pretty much do the same thing. Both expand the information and choices made available to the terminally ill. Both would incentivize the same behavior by doctors. Neither would create a death panel. Neither mandates counseling.
What Isakson really objects to is being used as a prop by the White House.