Republicans think they've just happened upon a major moment in the never-ending political debate over Obamacare: Newly discovered video of White House consultant Jonathan Gruber's controversial comments about the passage of the law.
In the video, from 2013, Gruber suggests the details of the law were obscured in order to assure its passage. He says the bill relied on the "stupidity of the American voter” and a “lack of transparency." Pretty damning stuff.
Republicans, naturally, think they just might have this goose cooked now, with the Post's Robert Costa quoting Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) calling Gruber's comments a potential (for lack of a better term) game-changer -- one that could finally help turn public sentiment against Obamacare for good and assist the GOP's efforts to dismantle it.
"We may want to have hearings on this," Jordan told Costa. "We shouldn't be surprised they were misleading us."
But while it's clear this is hardly Obamacare's proudest moment, the idea that Gruber's comments will suddenly swing public sentiment against Obamacare is wishful thinking. That's because, throughout the law's history, support and opposition have been pretty consistent. Yes, there have been some rises and dips along the way, but, overall, the picture is one of stasis for the better part of five years.
Here's the Kaiser Family Foundation's tracking poll on impressions of the law, also known as the Affordable Care Act:
Make no mistake: Gruber's comments are dumb. But, it's not as though the GOP has struggled to find supposedly disqualifying elements of Obamacare in the past.
There was the flawed Web site launch in late 2013 (that was a pretty big deal, as we recall). There was the whole "if you like your plan, you can keep it" imbroglio around the same time. There have been the incremental changes made by the Obama administration, including two delays of the employer mandate in July 2013 and February 2014. There was the Supreme Court ruling in June 2012 that Obamacare was, in effect, a tax.
There was also a 2010 quote from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that barks up a similar tree as Gruber's new comments: "We have to pass the bill to find out what's in it." There's even previous comments from Gruber himself, in which he appeared to agree with the thrust of an anti-Obamacare lawsuit seeking to dismantle the Affordable Care Act by pointing out that its subsidies were intended only for states who set up exchanges -- and not by states using the federal exchange. (This, moreso than Gruber's latest comment, could impact things. That's because it could be used in the case that will be heard by the Supreme Court this year.)
Each one of these things, by themselves, got plenty of Republicans plenty excited. And each of them undoubtedly contributed to the long-standing distaste with the law. But none of them really changed the playing field for good.
And Gruber's comments, while damning, aren't exactly the most fertile political territory. That's because, while "stupidity of the American voter" is a pretty strong soundbite, Gruber's connection to the law takes some explaining. And we're not sure most people -- apart from those who already decided the efficacy of the law years ago -- are really keen on the latest Obamacare debate a week after the 2014 election.
Changing public opinion on something like this, five years hence, takes a lot -- especially when the support and opposition have been baked in for so long at pretty constant levels.
If anything can change that, it is far more likely to be something that has a personal impact on lots of Americans -- like large premium increases or canceled plans. And if Obamacare is dismantled, it will be because the GOP has Congressional majorities and a president who wants to do it. That means no earlier than 2017.
Gruber has done Obamacare no favors with his overly blunt and cynical assessments, and there's a reason he apologized publicly for them on Tuesday. But if Jordan or other Republicans think this is their big moment, they're probably hoping a little too hard.