Editorials

Gruber fetish obscures huge Obamacare gains

Jonathan Gruber poses in his home in Lexington, Mass., in 2011. Newly surfaced videos have revived the push by congressional conservatives to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, about to begin its second year of coverage for millions of Americans. The videos show an MIT economist who was an adviser in the law’s drafting saying the stupidity of the American voter helped Democrats pass the complex legislation, among other incendiary claims. Republicans, both lawmakers and activists, quickly mobilized to seize the offhand comments, while Democrats dismissed economist Jonathan Gruber as an outsider who over-stepped in his remarks.
Jonathan Gruber poses in his home in Lexington, Mass., in 2011. Newly surfaced videos have revived the push by congressional conservatives to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law, about to begin its second year of coverage for millions of Americans. The videos show an MIT economist who was an adviser in the law’s drafting saying the stupidity of the American voter helped Democrats pass the complex legislation, among other incendiary claims. Republicans, both lawmakers and activists, quickly mobilized to seize the offhand comments, while Democrats dismissed economist Jonathan Gruber as an outsider who over-stepped in his remarks. The Associated Press

The Affordable Care Act has helped insure roughly 10 million Americans who, until now, had no access to health insurance.

Under Covered California and the expanded Medi-Cal program, more than 3 million of our state’s residents now are protected against the ruinous cost of getting sick.

Twenty-somethings still looking to launch can stay on their parent’s plan until they’re 26. Life savings remain intact if a loved one becomes ill or injured. People with pre-existing conditions can buy affordable heath care plans. President Barack Obama made that happen, along with the vast majority of congressional Democrats.

To be sure, Obamacare has had issues – computer glitches, false starts, overstatements and some people dropped from coverage temporarily while they moved to different plans.

What shouldn’t be an issue, though, is an unguarded remark by a consultant who once advised the White House.

The relentless fetish the conservative media have developed around a video clip of Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist, is a petty distraction, a public disservice and a waste of time.

Gruber, for those not tuned to Fox News 24/7, was a paid White House and Department of Health and Human Services adviser, and one of 13 consultants to the Senate Finance Committee, who provided econometric research about the Affordable Care Act. He also was a top adviser to Gov. Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts health plan from 2003 to 2006.

At an academic conference in October 2013, where snooty one-upsmanship is a prerequisite and hyperbole is valued, Gruber said the passage of Obamacare relied on the “stupidity of the American voter,” and there was a “lack of transparency” in the process.

The eagerness with which conservatives have used this hot air to power their blind hatred of health care reform is unseemly. Here’s a bulletin: Most of us knew what Obamacare would do. We liked it. We aren’t stupid and we weren’t tricked.

Nor are most of us surprised, in the least, to learn that an elite policy wonk from an elite institution talks like an elitist. Ooh, he not-so-secretly thinks he’s smarter than other people. So what?

Democrats should stop knocking themselves out to pretend Gruber had nothing to do with the process. Gruber wasn’t just “some adviser,” as President Barack Obama has called him. Obama knew who Gruber was.

Gruber’s economic modeling was indeed important to the process, but he wasn’t an architect of the law, as some on the right have alleged.

The law was drawn up by members of the House and Senate committees, along with key senior Obama administration officials. If Obamacare were a major league baseball team, Gruber might be one of the number crunchers coming up with interesting stats to pass along to the team scouts. He had, as a consultant, a fascinating, necessary job, but he wasn’t remotely in command.

The resulting foofaraw over Gruber’s remarks, which were indeed patronizing, is vastly out of proportion to their importance. This media firestorm is reminiscent of the 1981 remarks of President Ronald Reagan’s Office of Management and Budget Director David Stockman, who characterized the tax-slashing, supply-side economics as a “Trojan horse” to bring down the top tax rates for wealthy Americans.

Stockman, a vastly more influential player than Gruber in that now-idealized GOP White House, observed that “no one really understands what’s going on with all these numbers,” and that “the hogs were really feeding … we didn’t think it all the way through.”

Stockman managed to survive in his job another four years. We’d like Obamacare to move forward, too.

A new open enrollment period has begun, and there are plenty of issues to work out.

Will premiums stay low? Will networks be sufficient? Will there be enough doctors for the new enrollees?

These matters are what we should focus on, not some fake epidemic of preternaturally tender feelings. Millions more Americans have health coverage, finally. To willfully try to make that not work is just dumb.

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