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House Democrat under fire in health debate

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic lawmaker came under fire on Thursday for remarks linking Republican attacks on President Obama's healthcare law to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

Representative Steve Cohen is accused of upsetting what House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner had called a "respectful debate" over repealing the healthcare law.

Obama and others have urged politicians to tone down the rhetoric in the aftermath of the January 8 shooting spree in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 including Representative Gabrielle Giffords.

The National Jewish Democratic Council criticized Cohen's comments.

"As we have said repeatedly, invoking the Holocaust to make a political point is never acceptable -- on either side of the aisle," the group said on its website.

Former Tennessee Democratic Congressman Harold Ford on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" said Cohen's remarks made on the floor of the House on Tuesday were inappropriate and that he should apologize.

Cohen has expressed regret that anything he said distracted from the debate over healthcare. He said he never called Republicans Nazis but was commenting on their "messaging" techniques.

"I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments," he said in a statement.

"My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which it has been delivered."

The two-day debate over the healthcare repeal, which passed the Republican-led House on Wednesday, for the most part lacked the strident language that marked the discussion last year, when the then Democratic-controlled Congress passed the overhaul.

But critics said Cohen's remarks about Republicans flew in the face of calls for a more respectful tone in political debate.

"They say it's a government takeover of healthcare," Cohen said. "A big lie. Just like Goebbels, you say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it. Like blood libel. That's the same kind of thing."

Republican potential presidential hopeful Sarah Palin came under fire last week for using the term "blood libel" to condemn criticism that linked her fiery rhetoric to the Arizona shooting.

Blood libel refers to a false accusation that Jews murder children to use their blood in religious ceremonies and has been used through history in the persecution of Jews.

(Reporting by Donna Smith; Editing by Xavier Briand)