updated 1/20/2011 1:37:26 PM ET 2011-01-20T18:37:26

A Tennessee Democrat is defending his comparison of Republican health care arguments to Nazi propaganda.

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Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis made the remarks earlier this week as House lawmakers debated repealing the new health care law. Cohen, who is Jewish, said Republicans are repeating lies and spreading false information, much like Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels did about Jews before the Holocaust.

Dem compares GOP health care argument to Nazi propaganda

He specifically criticized the GOP talking point that the health care bill was a government takeover, which he noted has been widely debunked.

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"Just like Goebbels, you say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually people believe it," Cohen said on the House floor. "The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it and you had the Holocaust."

In a statement released Thursday, Cohen said he never called Republicans Nazis and insisted he was referencing only their messaging tactics. He said critics and the media are taking his comments out of context.

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

Cohen's comments come as leaders of both parties have called on politicians to temper their rhetoric in the wake of the recent shooting in Arizona, which left six dead and injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The newly formed bipartisan group No Labels, which is seeking to find common ground between Republicans and Democrats, was among the groups condemning the comparison, calling it a "toxic analogy."

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"Using an inflammatory Nazi analogy on the House floor to characterize the policy statements of your opponents does nothing to advance the health care debate and does plenty to widen the political divide," the group said in a statement.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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