It appears that friends (albeit a dwindling number) of MIT professor Jonathan Gruber may soon have to put his face on milk cartons to locate the economist. After a series of frank but embarrassing statements on the strategies behind the Administration’s passage of the Affordable Car Act (ACA), Gruber has moved from the status of “disfavored” to “disavowed” to “disappeared.” This week, Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi expressed a complete lack of knowledge of who Gruber is, was, or will be — even though she previously cited his work and he was paid $400,000 as one of the architects of Obamacare and has made over $2 million from HHS. Such roles are often difficult for scholars in moving between the political and academic worlds, but it is rare to find an academic become such an issue in a national debate.
Gruber had already previously attracted controversy with statements where he 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 uproar 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. Gruber has become a major liability in the litigation. Gruber then was 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.” Now a new videotape has surfaced from Gruber speaking at the University of Rhode Island in 2012 and expressing the same contempt for the intelligence of citizens — suggesting again that they were hoodwinked to “the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” In another view taken from at an October 2013 event at Washington University in St. Louis, Gruber also refers to the “Cadillac tax,” and says “They proposed it and that passed, because the American people are too stupid to understand the difference.” His comments of working in Massachusetts (with Mitt Romney) are no less insulting to an array of people.
That is when the Beltway machine kicked into high gear to erase all memory of a professor named Gruber. If this trend continues, we will need dental records just to confirm his identity.
The Washington Post noted after Pelosi’s press conference that she cited Gruber’s work by name in support of Obamacare:
PELOSI: We’re not finished getting all of our reports back from CBO, but we’ll have a side by side to compare. But our bill brings down rates. I don’t know if you have seen Jonathan Gruber of MIT’s analysis of what the comparison is to the status quo versus what will happen in our bill for those who seek insurance within the exchange.
Before he was “disappeared,” he was widely cited as an architect of the act. The New York Times said in 2012:
After Mr. Gruber helped the administration put together the basic principles of the proposal, the White House lent him to Capitol Hill to help Congressional staff members draft the specifics of the legislation.
Nevertheless, the White House used an anonymous official to disavow Gruber’s role as an architect of the Act and insist that he never “worked in the White House” — a comment that may refer to the location of his actual desk.
He was widely sought as one of the architect of the law, which ultimately proved his undoing since many of these comments came in the same 2012-13 period. Supporters of the White House have even challenged the $400,000 figure paid out for Gruber. However, the Washington Post not only affirmed the figure used by Republicans but found that he had received $2 million on various contracts. Pretty good for a guy who must not now be named.
The tempest swirling around Gruber is difficult to watch. He is an accomplished scholar with a long list of accomplishments to his credit. The frankness with which he has spoken is a signature of an academic, though his view of the intelligence of the American people is quite shocking. It will remain a cautionary tale for those traveling between the academic and political worlds.