November 12, 2014

Professor Jonathan Gruber’s explanation of the legislative language in the Affordable Care Act was neither shocking nor a secret. ALL legislation is framed for maximum political acceptability and minimum pushback. ALL legislation includes spin intended to short circuit opposition spin. The incredibly phony outrage of conservative pols and pundits is pitiful. The effort to take umbrage on behalf of “The American People” is comical evidence of moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

The Boston Herald story included the following account of Gruber’s remarks:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO (Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. … So it’s written to do that,” Gruber said, suggesting “it would not have passed” if the law “made it explicit” that healthy people would “pay in” and the sick would get money. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber continued. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to get the thing to pass. I wish ... we could make it all transparent. But I’d rather have this law than not.”

The “outraged” critics of Gruber’s comments do not actually believe that the framing of the ACA was a deliberate effort to “fool the American people.” They understand that legislation has to be drafted in this “tortuous way” because the political opposition (in this case the Republicans) would have had an easier time “fooling the American people” if simpler or plainer language had been used. Let’s not forget that when the ACA was being drafted the same folks now “outraged” were questioning the President’s birthplace and claiming that he was a socialist. Consider the moronic claims conservatives were able to mount against the ACA despite efforts to short circuit their attacks. When working against folks willing to claim that the law created “death panels,” it should neither surprise nor offend anyone that the drafters of the ACA tried to minimize Republican opportunities to mischaracterize the language of the bill. The fact that all of the hyperbolic criticisms of the law by conservatives have proven false gets us to the real motive for this latest outrage. Desperate to distract folks from the increasingly clear reality that they have lied over and over and over about Obamacare, rightwing pols, pundits, and even profs, are piling on here in hopes of using Gruber’s raw, unfocused grouped, comments to prop up their crumbling argument against Obamacare. Having long ago chosen to throw whatever they could at this president and his signature legislative accomplishment without regard for truth or evidence, critics of the Affordable Care Act can’t afford to get picky now.

The Herald story concluded with a reasonable defense of Gruber’s comments from a professor who heard them live: “Mark Pauly, a UPenn professor and co-panelist, said, “I thought it was a poor way of explaining what he was talking about — political expediency and the idea of reducing the subsidy of employment-based health insurance. If you explicitly said that people would tax your health benefits that would be political dynamite. It was not really about voters being stupid but about the political process.”

Pauly’s sober and reasonable assessment of Gruber’s comments, which were made more than a year ago, is (not surprisingly) getting very little play in the media. Sadly, this story is just another in a long string of fabricated scandals (expect calls for congressional hearings presently) that President Obama’s critics have relied on throughout his tenure. It’s pitiful.

Watch Gruber on Greater Boston Wednesday:

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