No doubt, you’ve heard a bit about the Jonathan Gruber videos emerging this week. Gruber came to light earlier this year for videos in which he argued that the supposed “scribal error” in Obamacare was intentional — i.e, that states that do not build exchanges shouldn’t get Obamacare subsidies. These new videos show him slagging the American voter, boasting about how they deceived the public on aspects of Obamacare and basically acting like an arrogant twerp.
There’s been a small wellspring of sympathy for him, since he’s now caught up in an unexpected controversy. Personally, I find it difficult to find a lot of sympathy for a man who was paid $400,000 to help deceitfully foist Obamacare on us, but whatever.
I don’t think Gruber’s comments, however angering they are, are going to make much difference. Obamacare passed and has survived at least one SCOTUS challenge. His comments on the subsidies are a good talking point on Halbig but SCOTUS is going to base their decision on Congressional intent, not the post-facto comments of some MIT windbag. No matter how involved he was in writing Obamacare, it is the intent of the legislators that matters.
But there is one aspect of the Gruber videos that is important. It proves that not only were critics of the law right, but that the Administration knew they were right and lied and obfuscated about the law. It’s not a “scandal” in the sense that anyone broke the law. But it’s a scandal in what it reveals about Obama, the Democrats and the so-called fact-checkers.
Take the CBO scoring. One of the big selling points of Obamacare, from day one, was that it would decrease the federal deficit. Critics pointed out that it only did this because of gimmicks — the
taxes penalties fines taxes phased in a little faster than the subsidies. Critics pointed out that it depended on unlikely money-saving events, such as not enacting a “doc fix” (said doc fix having been promised to the AMA in return for their support of the bill). Critics pointed out that while it was technically balanced over the ten years, by year ten, Obamacare was running a deficit, a deficit that would only increase over the years. Critics also pointed out that CBO analysis, if you dug deep, made exactly these points. While they were required by law to score it the way they did, they noted, numerous times, the flaws in their projection.
When we pointed this out, we were called liars and tools of the insurance industry. Fact-checkers rated this claim as false. Of course, time has born out our complaints. But what the video shows is that the Administration was well aware of their deceit — how could they not be? This wasn’t a quirk; this was an act of deliberate deception. And they were laughing about it all the way back to their comfy positions in academia and industry.
Another big point is the so-called “cadillac tax”, which enacts a fee on healthcare plans that cost more than a certain amount (at least, for some people). When this plan was rolled out, critics pointed out that it was indexed to inflation, not healthcare costs. This would mean that, over time, more and more plans would qualify as “cadillac plans”. The result would be to effectively eliminate the tax deduction for health insurance.
Now one can make the case that the tax deduction is bad law. But that’s not the case the Obama Administration made because they knew eliminating the tax deduction for health insurance would be extremely unpopular and likely scuttle the entire bill. So they came up with a convoluted and tangled way of doing it. And when critics pointed this out, they were called liars and tools of the insurance industry (the insurance industry having written much of Obamacare).
Now that everyone is admitting to what Obamacare does, the President’s supporters are … blaming the stupidity of the voters for making these lies necessary. We’re being told this is standard operating procedure in Washington (it isn’t), that everyone does it (they don’t) and that the critics are being hypocrites (for … um, being right all along?)
We see this over and over again with this Administration. Here is my own attempt a one-act play that encapsulated the last six years:
Obama: My law does X.
Critics: The law also does Y and Z and it doesn’t do X very well.
Obama Supporters: Tea Partiers! Extremists! How dare you come here with your astroturf talking points!
“Fact Checkers”: Obama says the law does X. We rate your claim as false.
[Three years pass]
“Fact Checkers”: Actually, the law also does Y and Z and does’t do X very well.
Critics: We told you!
Obama Supporters: Shut up! Y and Z are great policies! Obama had to lie about it because you’re so fucking stupid!
The gripping hand here is that this will not make any difference. Most of the vast American public could give two shits about Jonathan Gruber. This will not have any impact on the Halbig case or any other legal challenges nor will it play a role in any attempts to fix or repeal Obamacare. It will persuade few to repeal the bill who don’t already want to. It’s mostly Washington insider stuff. I find myself agreeing with Tyler Cowen: let’s put all this energy into explaining why these policies are so bad rather than whether Gruber is an arrogant prick or the devil incarnate.
Gruber is nothing. Obamacare is everything. We can do something about the latter. And now we can use the Administrations own words to help make it happen.