Jonathan Gruber, the embattled former White House consultant and key architect of Obamacare, spent the morning engaged in an awkward battle with lawmakers during a House Oversight Committee hearing about his role in the president’s health care law.
Gruber, now a professor at MIT, was asked to testify before the committee because of contentious remarks caught on tape. During different appearances regarding the creation of Obamacare, he said the “stupidity of American voters” as well as the “lack of transparency" helped Democrats pass the healthcare law.
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage," Gruber said in one recording. "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 remarks surfaced last month and created a public relations nightmare for the Obama administration, Democrats and Obamacare advocates.
Unsurprisingly, Democrats on the committee had harsh words for Gruber during the hearing. Ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings ripped into the MIT professor and called his comments “absolutely stupid.”
Gruber, for his part, apologized for his “glib” remarks.
“I sincerely apologize both for conjecturing with a tone of expertise and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion,” Gruber said. “It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others. I know better."
Gruber was tasked with developing an economic micro-simulation model to help the state and federal government assess the outcomes of the policy changes under the new law.
He has been labeled one of the “architects” of the law, though during the hearing he distanced himself from that title.
“I'm a professor of economics at MIT. I'm not a politician nor a political advisor," Gruber said, claiming that his role with the administration was purely technical. "I did not draft Governor Romney’s health care plan, and I was not the ‘architect’ of President Obama’s health care plan.
The hearing took an awkward turn when Oversight Chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA) noted that the committee did not receive its request for complete information on how much money Gruber was paid by the federal and state governments.
“The gentleman’s disclosure is not complete,” Issa said.
When the chairman pressed Gruber to disclose a complete figure, the economist refused. Instead, he deferred to his lawyer—“I’m sure my counsel would be happy to take that up with you.”
That prompted other Republican committee members to push for a response. Rep. Jim Jordan, frustrated, asked, “Why doesn’t he just tell us? He’s under oath, why doesn’t he tell us how much he got paid by the taxpayers? We don’t have to wait for him to send something to us, he should just be able to tell us.”
Earlier this month, the Daily Mail and other media outlets reported that Gruber had collected upwards of $5.9 million from four states and the federal government since 2000 for his work connected to the Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans cite a figure closer to $2 million. Still, it’s unclear whether that figure is accurate, but Republicans including Jordan, Issa and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), all vowed to get the complete documents from Gruber in the coming weeks.
“We want to know how much you got from the taxpayers. Then [you] made fun of them after you got it from them,” Jordan said.
Issa added that it was “amazing that we still don’t have a number” suggesting that the committee will likely subpoena Gruber.
“We’re going to have to get an estimate,” Issa said. “It is very clear that we’re going to have to do more discovery and that you’ll be back here again.”
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