A Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist who helped draft Obamacare has drawn a firestorm of criticism after saying parts of the law passed because Americans were too stupid to understand what they meant.
Jonathan Gruber — who was tapped in 2008 to help draft the Affordable Care Act — made the comments in a series of talks at academic institutions in 2012 and 2013. The talks were captured on video and began circulating widely this week. According to the Washington Post, Philadelphia-area investment adviser Rich Weinstein found the videos after his insurance plan was cancelled and he began watching footage of the law's architects.
As of Wednesday, three separate videos had surfaced. In each of them, Gruber gives a lengthy explanation of the health care law, but also says voters were "stupid" or "exploited." One of the most damning clips comes from a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in 2013:
"Lack of transparancy is a huge political advantage. And basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever."
Gruber makes the comment (about 21:05 into the clip) while discussing the political difficulties of passing health care reform. Moments later, Gruber says he wishes the process could have been transparent, but adds, "I'd rather have this law than not."
Earlier in the same discussion, Gruber also explained the origin of the "Cadillac tax," but says only about "70% is good — is doing the right thing." The tax ultimately became part of the law and charges health care companies for certain kinds of plans.
Gruber used similar language while speaking in October 2013 at Washington University in St. Louis:
"Because the American voter is too stupid to understand the difference."
The comment (made at about 31:45 in the video) refers to attempts to make sure Obamacare both cut costs and remained politically palatable. Gruber explained that voters would reject the law if they believed it involved taxing their health care benefits. So instead, and at John Kerry's suggestion, the architects of Obamacare resolved to tax health insurance companies. The end result is essentially the same because the companies pass the costs on to consumers, but the change made the law more politically viable.
"It's a very clever, you know, basically exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter."
Gruber's comments have sparked outrage, and given Republicans new fodder in their crusade against Obamacare.
Sen. John McCain told the Washington Post Wednesday that Gruber's comments "give us ammunition to make fundamental changes to the law." A spokesman for House Majority Leader John Boehner described the comments as "a sad reminder that this awful law was passed in the worst possible way, with lies, secrecy and more lies from Washington Democrats." And Sen. Jeff Sessions said the strategy described by Gruber was "a threat to the American republic."
The lawmakers have been joined by a growing chorus of other conservatives.
Gruber said Tuesday he regrets making the comments, but the Obama administration is nonetheless keeping its distance.
While appearing on MSNBC, Gruber said he was "speaking off the cuff and I spoke inappropriately, and I regret making those comments."
Still, in a statement to the Post Wednesday the Obama administration downplayed Gruber's role and said his comments were false:
The Affordable Care Act was publicly debated over the course of 14 months, with dozens of Congressional hearings, and countless town halls, speeches, and debates. The tax credits in the law that help millions of middle class Americans afford coverage were no secret, and in fact were central to the legislation. Not only do we disagree with [Gruber's] comments, they're simply not true.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Gruber's comments Thursday and said, "I disagree vigorously with that assessment," according to Fox News reporter Fin Gomez.