The Deceitful Selling of Obamacare Coming Home to Roost

By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media

MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber’s comments regarding the “stupidity of the American voter” necessitating legislators to craft the Obamacare law in such a way that voters wouldn’t understand its impact, have sparked outrage, mostly from conservatives. But while Americans are focusing on comments that Gruber has now retracted, they should also pay attention to the real misinformation that he has been peddling about the signature health care legislation all along.

“He called you stupid,” writes Ron Fournier for National Journal. “He admitted that the White House lied to you. Its officials lied to all of us—Republicans, Democrats, and independents; rich and poor; white and brown; men and women,” and that “the law never would have passed if the administration had been honest about the fact that the so-called penalty for noncompliance with the mandate was actually a tax.”

“Liberals should be the angriest,” said Fournier. He said that he has “to admit, as a supporter, that Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies. No way around it.” We say, welcome to Obamaland. It’s not just Obamacare, it’s pretty much everything they are selling. But it’s good to see someone from the mainstream media acknowledging this, however belated it may be. Actually, Fournier has been one of the more honest members of the liberal media. Hopefully, this will help inform his judgment on other issues as well, such as the IRS and Benghazi scandals.

But Gruber’s initial comments about this legislation’s authors deceiving voters haven’t generally received attention in the mainstream media. Most have ignored it. Howard Kurtz, host of the Fox News Channel’s “Media Buzz” went on “The O’Reilly Factor” and called it a “virtual blackout,” and “inexcusable” how the media have ignored this story. Others are trying to spin it to help the Obama administration. The Washington Post, for example, has praised Gruber as “the man who’s willing to say what everyone else is only thinking about Obamacare.” And New York Times writer Josh Barro went on MSNBC and justified Gruber’s comments, saying, “So, the public puts politicians in a position where the only thing they can do to make the public happy is lie and so, people lied.” Apparently, the ends justified the means for Barro. Anything to get the President’s signature health reform through Congress.

As Rush Limbaugh said, imagine how the media would have reacted if a former George W. Bush adviser had said they had lied about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, because Americans were too stupid to otherwise support going to war to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Gruber backed away from his “stupidity of the American voter” contention in an appearance on “The Ronan Farrow” show on MSBNC, saying he spoke “off the cuff” at an academic conference and “inappropriately.” But this isn’t the first time he’s used that excuse.

“I think what’s important to remember politically about this is, if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits,” Gruber said to a small audience in 2012 during a controversy that erupted this July, according to The Washington Post. “But your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying to your citizens, you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country.”

“The comments, which were made during a question-and-answer session two years ago, appeared to corroborate a claim by the law’s detractors that the federal government intentionally coerces the states into creating their own exchanges by withholding funding if states fail to do so,” reports Jose A. DelReal for The Washington Post. Gruber claimed at the time his comments were “off-the-cuff” and therefore should be dismissed, just like this time.

In explaining his most recent gaffe during the MSNBC appearance, Gruber said, “This is something we see going back, actually, through the Clinton and Bush presidencies, which is that public policy that involves spending is typically less politically palatable than policy that involves doing things through the tax code.”

Gruber’s MSNBC appearance was artfully done, a clearly scripted performance, likely using a teleprompter. His eyes appeared to read left to right as he butchered the word “palatable” on television, in a performance reminiscent of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s “myzled” gaffe from last year, when she was caught misreading an answer from a teleprompter on MSNBC. Has MSNBC sunk so low that it rehearses statements with high-profile favored guests like Gruber to ensure that their speakers’ messages get out properly and they don’t mess up spontaneously on air?

There can be no other explanation for Gruber’s pronunciation of palatable as pu-LATE-able, other than that he was reading it from a teleprompter. After all, he is an MIT professor. See him pronounce it here at the 1:58 mark, but you should listen to the whole interview. One might call such shenanigans the delivery of packaged press releases instead of news. Or perhaps helping to walk back an ideological ally from going off the ledge, and taking Obamacare with him.

Gruber moved on to comment to Farrow about the Supreme Court’s recent decision to take up King v. Burwell, calling the debate over whether the law allows the federal government to allocate subsidies through the federal exchanges as based upon a “typo.” “It’s not really tortured language, it’s just a typo,” he argued. He blamed former Senator Scott Brown’s (R-MA) election for gridlock and the inability to put the Senate bill through conference. Therefore, he argues, the “typos” in the law were not eliminated before the Senate version was passed.

Accuracy in Media predicted earlier this year that this debate over federal subsidies could go to the highest court in the land. This is not just about whether this lawsuit “guts” Obamacare, but whether law will be interpreted based upon its plain language, making it a more than appropriate subject of inquiry for the Supreme Court.

The liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, on the other hand, accuses the judges of political corruption for taking up the case in the first place. “Judges who support this cruel absurdity aren’t stupid; they know what they’re doing,” he writes. “What they are, instead, is corrupt, willing to pervert the law to serve political masters. And what we’ll find out in the months ahead is how deep the corruption goes.”

Krugman’s argument is also based upon the idea that this is just a “typo” in the law. Slate Magazine classifies it as just a “glitch.” “That could change on account of a glitch in the ACA, which can be read to say that you can only get a subsidy if you signed up on a state-managed exchange,” reports Slate. “If the Supreme Court signs off on this interpretation, the federal government cannot subsidize insurance for the less well-off in any state that has declined to set up its own exchange.”

“Subsidies, in the form of tax credits, are a crucial element of the Affordable Care Act,” reported The New York Times earlier this year. “Without them, insurance would be unaffordable to millions of Americans.”

What these subsidies are, in reality is a form of taking from the rich or the healthy to give to the poor or the sick. If that’s what the backers of the law wanted, they should have said so, and gone ahead and passed it honestly, instead of through a series of known-to-be lies.

And the allocation of subsidies to citizens within states without exchanges is hardly a debate about a typo, argues Professor Jonathan Adler of Case Western University. “The one appellate court to agree with Krugman conceded ‘there is a certain sense to the plaintiffs’ position’” that subsidies are only for states with exchanges, writes Adler. “Yet, according to Krugman, only those who are ‘hostile’ and ‘corrupt’ could reach such a conclusion.”

Adler roasts Krugman, and pundits who call the plaintiffs’ case based upon a “typo.”

“This is a popular argument among pundits, but it’s not made by the government or more knowledgeable legal experts—and for good reason: It’s a weak argument,” writes Adler. “The government’s strongest argument is not that there is a typo, but that the entire statute, construed as a whole, allows for what the IRS did, even if only because the text is sufficiently ambiguous to allow for the IRS’s interpretation.”

But the reality is that the language is in there for one specific reason. It was demanded by then-Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE), for his 60th vote to pass the legislation. He saw it as a way to incentivize states to form exchanges, and not rely on the federal government’s exchange. So it wasn’t a typo—which is when you type something by mistake—it was a concession.

Another popular talking point for pundits is the idea that 10 million people have gotten health care under Obamacare so far. This is a highly deceptive number, as it takes into account the Medicaid expansion, as well as counting those people who lost (or left) their private and employer health insurance to join the exchange. In other words, some of the counted persons were already insured, and now get their insurance under Obamacare instead.

Gruber continued the myth that 10 million people had gained health insurance in his MSBNC appearance, as well. But the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal estimates that there is a “net increase in private-sector coverage” of 2.46 million people. That’s a long way from 10 million.

Besides, how many people are paying higher premiums, higher deductibles, have lost their network or primary care doctor, have had to accept a part-time job instead of a full-time job because that is what the perverse incentives of Obamacare have created? And what about the 30 to 40 million who were uninsured when this process started?

We’ll also find out shortly if they have solved their computer issues during the past seven months that enrollment was shut down. And don’t forget the 20,000-plus pages of “regulations” and taxes piled onto Obamacare after the bill became law.

To add to the Democrats’ embarrassment, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)—who said during the legislative process that “We have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it,”—is now denying even knowing who Jonathan Gruber is, and saying that he didn’t help write the law. But thanks to videotape and the Internet, Fox News has shown that Pelosi’s office issued a press release that cited Gruber by name for his analysis, and she referred to him during a press conference. It’s possible that she just forgot, but either way, it added to Obamacare’s very bad week.

As Gruber admits, pundits, architects, and supporters of Obamacare tried to deceive the American voter through obtuse, tortured legislative language at the time of its passage. But the decision to conceal the real failures of Obamacare didn’t stop when the law passed; such efforts are ongoing.


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