WASHINGTON — The Senate's top Democrat criticized a pair of billionaire brothers in unusually harsh terms Wednesday, accusing the conservative duo of being "un-American," spreading lies about President Barack Obama's health care overhaul and lacking a conscience.
In a pair of appearances on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., became the latest Democrat this election year to denunciate Charles and David Koch — pronounced "Coke."
The brothers' representatives said Reid's attack was "disgraceful" and accused him of attacking people hurt by the 2010 health care law.
Reid's focus was on television ads that are being used against Democratic congressional candidates, commercials that he said misleadingly criticize the health care law.
"When you make billions of dollars a year you can be as immoral and dishonest as your money will allow you to be," Reid said. "It's too bad that they're trying to buy America, and it's time that the American people spoke out against this terrible dishonesty of these two brothers who are about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine."
Hours earlier, Reid said the ads were misleadingly lambasting the health care law. "It's easy to do if you have no conscience and are willing to lie," he said.
Reid's comments come at a time when Republicans believe the glitch-plagued startup of the health care law gives them a winning issue in this fall's congressional campaigns. Democrats have launched a counteroffensive in recent days, focusing on how the law has helped millions of Americans.
The Koch brothers are financial backers of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, one piece of the brothers' sophisticated political and advocacy network. It has spent at least $27 million already on television ads criticizing Democrats, well outpacing Democratic spending.
Reid cited ads that he said misleadingly say the health care law made one patient's treatment unaffordable, and that use paid actors posing as residents of Louisiana and reading made-up letters from insurance companies. He described news media reports that debunked some of the ads.
In a written statement, Philip Ellender, an official with a Koch-owned company, said the brothers were not responsible for an Americans for Prosperity ad that Reid seemed to cite showing a Michigan leukemia patient.
"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," said Ellender, president of government affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector LLC. He said the brothers have "devoted their lives to advancing tolerance and freedom in America" and want a country where people "are free to make decisions about their lives."
In a written statement, Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, said, "Sen. Harry Reid stood on the Senate floor today and attacked the character and integrity of every American who had the courage to share how they're being hurt by the president's health care law — some of whom are battling serious, life-threatening illnesses."
Philips said Democrats were trying to distract attention on the health care law's problems "by declaring war on its victims."
In frequent messages to reporters and supporters, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has made a point of mentioning the Koch brothers. The party seems to be trying to turn them into boogeymen of this campaign and their wealth into a rallying point for the liberal base.
Koch Industries of Wichita, Kan., is one of the largest privately controlled companies in the world. The two brothers are among the wealthiest men in America.
Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.