We can learn a lot from the public-relations drubbing that Republicans are inflicting on Jonathan Gruber, a recently humbled MIT economist who has been a much-cited expert on the Obama administration’s health care plan.
Close attention to the scandal teaches how Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka “Obamacare,” was passed in part by money-grubbing elitists who operated with an “ends justifies the means” mentality that’s counter-productive when exposed. Part of the image is spin by opponents of expanded health care but part is all too true.
Gruber, shown in a photo from his faculty website at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), apparently made millions of dollars little known to the public, whose members he has privately described with disdain.
More important, his saga reminds us how President Obama’s major domestic achievement was shaped right from the beginning by technocrats who relied heavily on public relations strategies to outwit not simply Republicans but also progressives advocating universal health care that could have used a lower cost “public option” of delivery, much like Medicare.
Right now, Republicans are gloating over what they call “Gruber-gate” and loyal Democrats must play defense for a program that sought to extend coverage to an estimated 36 million Americans who could not afford health care.
There exists another and largely un-reported perspective these days worth remembering. The Obama White House secretly sabotaged from the beginning simpler, cheaper and more progressive alternatives to its complicated ACA, which was cobbled together to appease important special interests. Thus, Gruber and his arrogant behavior were just small parts of a larger PR spin machine.
Earlier this month, a GOP-led House committee attacked Gruber for his recently revealed statements to lecture audiences.
Most disturbing, the professor confided to fellow technocrats during a 2013 conference at the University of Pennsylvania that ACA’s passage required “the stupidity of the American voter.”
The conservative advocacy group American Commitment last month revealed the tapes showing Gruber making the disparaging comments as he described the narrow congressional passage of the ACA in 2010. The video clip shows Gruber saying “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.” Gruber added that “the stupidity of the American voter . . . was really critical for the [ACA] to pass.”
Gruber issued many apologies at a House hearing Dec. 9 by the House Government Operations Committee.
Setting the stage for future brow-beating in the next Congress, outgoing Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), right, demanded that Gruber cough up his financial records so the public could learn how much he has made in grants. Such funding, ostensibly awarded on a merit basis, can serve also as a control/reward system for academics and their institutions.
During the run-up to ACA passage in 2010, the Obama administration urged news outlets to quote Gruber because he was a supposedly independent expert who had calculated why ACA would meet its financial and other performance goals, including estimates reviewed by the influential Congressional Budget Office.
Far from being independent, Gruber was in the process of making at least $392,000 from two “sole-source” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) grants, according to a 2010 report by progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler of FireDogLake.
When the scandal broke last month about Gruber’s arrogant comments to fellow economists, President Obama downplayed Gruber’s role in the health care field. In a brief remark Nov. 16 during a trip to Australia, the president called Gruber, “some adviser who never worked on our staff.”
However, extensive background exists showing that the president knew and admired Gruber, whom he cited in an April 2006 speech before the Hamilton Project, a prestigious start-up think tank under the wing of the Brookings Institution.
Republicans have gone overboard also. Several, including Issa, have called Gruber an “architect” of Obamacare. But that description exaggerates Gruber’s role, as Factcheck.com reported in The ACA-Gruber Connection. The true architects were White House staff, a few major lobbyists and Senate staffers.