Even though these panels and their studies have no direct link to the pending health care legislation the timing couldn't be worse for Democrats. "It's a difficult time. They're trying to get 60 votes in the Senate ... so anything that scares people about what this bill would do, gives another talking point to opponents, is something they can't afford," says political analyst Rick Klein.
The White House has been aggressively trying to discount criticisms, suggesting the studies will mean some kind of rationing of care in the health care reform bill.
In a blog post yesterday, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer called any such argument "bogus." He went on: "Let's just say this as plainly as possible: Under health insurance reform, this research cannot be used to dictate coverage."
But for Democrats trying to push health care reform through, the damage may already be done. It's unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has the 60 votes he needs to secure a floor debate. At least two Democrats, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, are still on the fence. And Democrats also need support from Independent Joe Leiberman, who has said he is against the public option included in the Senate bill.
So either the bill lives to see another day and a full debate, or it dies and it's back to the drawing board.