We previously discussed the statements of Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who played a major role the ACA, or “Obamacare,” where he repeatedly endorsed the theory at the heart of the recent decisions in Halbig and King by challengers to the ACA: to wit, that the federal funding provision was a quid pro quo device to reward states with their own exchanges and to punish those that force the creation of federal exchanges. That issue will now be decided by the United States Supreme Court. Gruber caused a considerable controversy when, after he had denounced the theory as “nutty” during the arguments in Halbig and King, he was shown later to have embraced that same interpretation. Having been paid almost $400,000 as an architect of the ACA, Gruber has become a major liability in the litigation. Now Gruber is back in the news with an equally startling admission that the Obama Administration (and Gruber) succeeded in passing the ACA only by engineering a “lack of transparency” on the details and relying on “the stupidity of the American voter.”
Gruber’s remarks were made on a panel given roughly a year ago on Oct. 17, 2013. Notably, this was at the height of the tension over the ACA. While I have long supported national health care, I was critical of the sloppy drafting of the ACA, the federalism conflicts contained in the individual mandate provision, and the unsupportable claims made by the White House in selling the Act. The last concern was the subject of Gruber’s comments. Gruber told the crowd that the “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” He also said that “basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”
Gruber also later states that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.) is someone who “as far as I can tell, doesn’t understand economics” while calling a staffer for Sen. Olympia Snowe (R., Maine) an “idiot.” The later reference appears to be a reference to aide William Pewen.
The specific comments on the bill are transcribed as follows:
“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass… Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”
I was concerned that these lines were taken out of context so I watched the video below:
What is fascinating is that Gruber is open about what has long been hidden in this Administration: the lack of transparency as a tactical political vehicle. The ACA was pushed through by a muscle vote on a handful of votes while the Administration made claims that he later had to admit were misleading at best, such as the President’s repeated assurance that citizens could keep your current insurance policy if you liked it.
Gruber also admits that the Administration crafted the law to avoid it being supported by a tax despite Chief Justice John Roberts’ later decision that it was a tax. Gruber says that, while he would have preferred to be honest and open, such considerations had to be set aside in the interests of passing the law — even by less than honest means.
In a truly ironic twist, the University of Pennsylvania tried to pull back the admission on the lack of transparency by pulling the video:
It was too late. The video was out.
In fairness to Gruber, he was doing what an academic is supposed to do in honestly assessing what he believed occurred in the historic passage of the ACA. While he later sought to deny the earlier comments that he made on the state exchanges (in a less than candid moment), there is thus far no comment from him on this latest video. As in the earlier admissions, there has been little relative coverage by the mainstream media of the comments. Once again, the lack of media attention is surprising given the importance of Gruber to the ACA and the Administration.
UPDATE: Gruber went on MSNBC to say that his comments were “inappropriate” while the host insisted that his comments were misunderstood as “nuanced” observations.