WASHINGTON, December 9, 2014 — More than a month after videos of his remarks about Obamacare were revealed, MIT Professor Jon Gruber got to explain them to Congress. Last week Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., sent letters to Gruber and to Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner to testify at today’s hearing on the “repeated transparency failures and outright deceptions surrounding ObamaCare.”
It was a culmination of sorts for Gruber-gate, which saw Gruber, the so-called architect of Obamacare, make disparaging remarks about voters on video. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass,” Gruber had said.
“I was not the ‘architect’ of President [Barack] Obama’s health care plan,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist told the House Oversight committee. He repeatedly apologized and dismissed as “mean,” “glib” and “arrogant” a series of controversial remarks about the passage of Obamacare and the “stupidity” of the American voter.
“I am not a political adviser nor a politician,” said Gruber, who was a key economic adviser during the drafting of the law. And in his most pointed mea culpa, he allowed: “It was inexcusable that I tried to appear smarter by insulting others.”
Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa asked Jonathan Gruber, who is after all an American, if he is stupid:
“Are you stupid?” Issa asked Gruber, the infamous Obamacare architect that called the American people stupid and detailed the deceptions that went into the writing of the health care law.
“I don’t think so, no,” Gruber said.
“Does MIT employ stupid people?” Issa continued.
“Not to my knowledge,” Gruber said.
“Okay. So you’re a smart man who said some, as the ranking member said, some really stupid things,” Issa said. “Is that correct?”
“The comments I made were really inexcusable,” Gruber said.
“No, I don’t think so,” Gruber replied.
“I made uninformed and glib comments,” Gruber said in his statement. “I’m not an expert on politics … in other cases I simply made mean and insulting comments … it’s never appropriate to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others … I’m sorry.
“My own inexcusable arrogance is not a flaw in the Affordable Care Act,” Gruber said. “I hope the country can move past the distraction of my misguided comments.
“I behaved badly,” Gruber said.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., walked Gruber through his past statements, implying that he was not being entirely genuine in his retractions.
“Do you see a pattern trend here, professor?” Gowdy said. “It’s a lot of stupid quotes you made.”
“What is a non-politician doing talking about political advantages?” Gowdy continued, picking up on Gruber’s most frequent explanation for the comments.
“A non-politician is talking about political advantages to try to make himself seem smarter,” Gruber said.
“So you’re a professor at MIT and you’re worried about not looking smart enough?” Gowdy asked.
“Yes,” Gruber said, a little reluctantly.
“Well, you succeeded,” Gowdy said.
That Gruber was paid at least $400,000 for the economic models and simulations that allowed him to paint Americans as “stupid” just adds insult to the injury of Obamacare. But Gruber did not want to talk about how much he made — estimated at upwards of $6 million — as he was also hired by several states for his brilliant work.
“We want to know how much you got from the taxpayer and then made fun of them and lied to them,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, summarizing the Republicans’ angle in pursuing the question.
“The committee can take that up with my counsel,” Gruber said.
The most damaging statements Gruber made in his famous videos where his discussing the individual mandate and the “tortured way” that the law had been written to avoid it being considered a tax for Congressional Budget Office scoring purposes.
Rep Michael Turner, R-Ohio, questioned Gruber on that.
“Do you deny calling Obamacare a tax?” Turned asked.
“If you’re reading my actual quotes,” Gruber said.
“I’m reading your actual quotes,” Turner said.
“Then I don’t deny it,” Gruber conceded.
“Do you know what a tax is?” Turner continued. “Yes,” Gruber said.
“So you don’t deny today that Obamacare is a tax,” Turner said.
“Obamacare is a large piece of legislation with many provisions,” Gruber began. “Is one of those a tax?” Turner interjected. Gruber eventually said he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling that the individual mandate is a tax.
Gruber was not alone in the hearings as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Marilyn Tavenner was questioned regarding the lawsuit that would invalidate tax credits being offered through the federal health exchange, HealthCare.gov.
Thirty-seven states did not set up their own exchanges, mostly because of problems inherent with healthcare.gov and the escalating costs. At the core of King v. Burwell, which goes before the Supreme Court in March, is the contention that persons who signed up for Obamacare via the federal exchange are ineligible for the Obamacare subsidies that reduce the cost of insurance for poorer Americans while increasing costs for others.
Rep Jordan asked if the CMS was warning the people signing up through HealthCare.gov since open enrollment started last month that their tax credits could be retracted if the Supreme Court rules against the Obama administration in King.
“Have you been explaining to people signing up that this all may change in a matter of months?” Jordan has asked.
“Nothing has changed for consumers,” Tavenner said.
“Are you telling people things may change?” Jordan continued.
“This is not a closed case,” Tavenner said.
“Do you think it’s responsible to not tell millions of enrollees” that they could lose their tax credits? Jordan said, formulating the question a little differently.
“It’s not a closed case,” Tavenner concluded. “I’m not going to speculate.”
Tavenner also had to defend giving the committee inflated Obamacare enrollment numbers earlier this fall. The Obama administration included nearly 400,000 dental plans, giving the false impression that it had surpassed its 7 million enrollment goal.
Tavenner said that was an error arising from counting all payments to health plans, including some 400,000 that had signed up for dental plans, instead of tallying the number of people with medical coverage.
Issa said that the CMS has not been forthcoming and that Tavenner used “careful language so that you didn’t lie, but you did deceive.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., used his opening statement to berate Gruber for his comments, particularly the “gift” given to Obamacare opponents.
“As far as I can tell, we are here today to beat up on Jonathan Gruber for his stupid — and I mean absolutely stupid — comments,” Cummings said. “But worst of all, Dr. Gruber’s statements gave Republicans a public relations gift in their relentless political campaign to tear down the ACA.”
Cummings said he was “sorry” both for Gruber’s comments and the mistaken enrollment numbers.
“What it does is it distracts,” he said. “It distracts from all the good things that are being done by this law. And that’s the most painful part about all of this.”
At the end of the day, the question not asked is, if Johnny pinches Janie and causes a welt, does his apology make that welt go away?
America’s response is no.
And Gruber’s apology does not excuse the fact that he, and President Obama, created a program that was designed to mislead the American people.
It doesn’t excuse the fact that they created a hornet’s nest of lies that is hurting Americans on multiple levels — from reducing the number of jobs available to Americans as employers reduce hours and number of position to avoid draconian taxes, to increasing the costs of insurance for millions of Americans in order to provide insurance to others.