Republicans and Democrats both slammed health-care adviser and Obamacare maven Jonathan Gruber in a Tuesday hearing on the series of remarks in which he suggested that Americans are “stupid” and Obamacare proponents had to resort to non-transparent means to get the statute passed.
It was amusing and emotionally satisfying to see him squirm, but did any of it matter? Of more interest than the humiliation of one technocrat is the case pending before the Supreme Court in which Obamacare critics argue that the plain language of the statute allows subsidies only in exchanges run by the states. Gruber had said as much in his infamous remarks, giving weight to Obamacare challengers’ argument.
It is therefore noteworthy that, as Newsweek put it:
Gruber could not fully explain his comments about subsidies through the federal exchange—comments that Democrats fear will become grounds for the Supreme Court to gut the law. But Gruber repeated Tuesday that he always assumed in all of his economic models that subsidies would be available for plans purchased through the federal exchange. He also offered one theory on why he might have made those comments.
“The point I believe I was making was about the possibility that the federal government, for whatever reason, might not create a federal exchange,” he said Tuesday, noting that it was a presidential election year and there was the possibility that a Republican administration would be in charge of creating the federal exchange. “If that were to occur, and only in that context, then the only way that states could guarantee that their citizens would receive tax credits would be to set up their own exchanges.”
Unfortunately, that explanation does not wash either, as several conservative critics pointed out. And unfortunately for Gruber, at the time neither Gruber nor anyone associated with the administration was fretting that federal exchanges would not be ready. To the contrary, just about everyone concerned assumed that there would be federal exchanges. That was because federal exchanges are authorized by the statute, and it was evident from the get-go that some states simply were not going to set up their own exchanges.
Gruber’s weasel words did not help the administration, and only deepened the impression that the administration and its spinners would tell anyone anything (it is a tax, it’s not a tax, exchange subsidies go to everyone, etc.) to save a law jammed through with so little close examination. The bill may have been debated, but alas there is no legislative history on this or many other points because the enormous bill was crafted in private and never read by many members. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi famously explained that we would have to pass the law to find out what’s in it. And so we are finding out what Senate and House Democrats were able on reconciliation to jam through.
If the president wants to know why people have lost faith in government and why the media are so cynical, Tuesday should have been instructive. A highly compensated adviser was spinning furiously to erase his own words that undermined a massive piece of legislation lawmakers did not fully understand and that is disliked by a majority of Americans. And while this was going on, Senate Democrats were concocting a misleading, one-sided and rear-end-covering report to try to blame the CIA for a program they had been briefed on and which according to CIA directors, including the current one, saved lives.
This is shabby non-leadership at its very worst. Lawmakers think that the public can be bamboozled. They are willing to rewrite history to shift blame and avoid any inconvenient narrative. And then they have the nerve to lecture the public about “American values.”
The correct conservative response is not to become an anti-government zealot, but to elect competent, responsible leaders and to hold them accountable. It is to try to devolve power where possible and reform widely, showing that at least one political movement trusts people to make their choices. Doing just that in the midterms, Republicans picked up nine Senate seats, about a dozen House seats, three governorships and control of the most state legislatures since the 1920s. It is why approval of the GOP is at a five-year high.
We will see in 2016 whether Republicans have been able to show they can be trusted to govern ably and honestly, or whether voters are resigned to a third term of expert blame-shifting (because Hillary Clinton is one of the best).