Critics of the Affordable Care Act have long called the law and its fiscal projections inaccurate, deceptive, and completely unrealistic. The staggered structure of revenues and outlays were designed to get the Congressional Budget Office to deliver a deficit-neutral verdict on the bill just long enough to gain passage, even though every year in which outlays and income take place produced deficit spending even under the rosiest projections.
Advocates constantly accused the critics of opposing health care when care was never the issue, and made outrageously false claims about the bill having no impact on those with health insurance. “If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” became a mantra for Barack Obama, right up until the implementation of Obamacare exposed it as, in Politifact’s words, the “lie of the year” for 2013.
The dishonesty and demagoguery used to shove this bill through Congress and down the throats of voters were well known. Now, some are discovering that dishonesty was an explicit strategy for Obamacare’s designers, along with shocking doses of arrogance and elitism. Shocking, that is, for those who haven’t known all along that nanny-state policies like Obamacare include all three.
MIT professor Jonathan Gruber helped engineer Obamacare, as well as its predecessor Romneycare in Massachusetts. Democrats in the House and Senate made repeated references to Gruber as an independent, non-partisan expert in their attempts to pass off falsehoods as facts in the 2009-10 debate over the ACA. Gruber used his high profile to debate critics of the bill and to publicly assert its wisdom as public policy.
It turns out that Gruber had more to say over the last couple of years about Obamacare and wisdom than the news media bothered to report. Early this week, a video emerged of Gruber addressing a conference in October 2013 about the strategy of crafting the ACA – especially the individual mandate.
The Supreme Court upheld that part of the law as a tax, an argument that the Obama administration avoided making anywhere but inside a courtroom. Gruber, as part of a panel discussion, recalled that the architects of the bill made sure to keep the bill’s nature from being known.
“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes,” Gruber tells the audience with a smile. “If CBO scores the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” After the cheerful admission of deceiving Congress’ own fiscal watchdog, Gruber then offers his dismissive take about the saps who bought the arguments. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” he argued. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.” Gruber added that he didn’t care about lies being told -- as long as the bill passed.
This touched off a firestorm of criticism, and even Gruber seemed momentarily chastened. By Tuesday, he appeared on MSNBC to retreat from his gloating over snookering voters. “I was speaking off the cuff” at an academic conference, Gruber explained to Ronan Farrow. “I basically spoke inappropriately, and I regret having made those comments.”
That may have disarmed the story -- except that the next day, two more videos emerged of Gruber bragging about misleading and exploiting American voters with Obamacare.
In the second video, Gruber tells a different conference audience that the so-called “Cadillac tax” on high-end insurance plans was in effect a tax on policyholders rather than the insurance companies, but that “the American people are too stupid to understand the difference."
In the third video, taken from a speech at the University of Rhode Island in November 2012, Gruber bragged about how the Cadillac tax structure exploited voters’ lack of economic education. “It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter,” Gruber gloated.
So much for speaking off the cuff. Gruber has apparently spent quite a bit of time bragging about how much smarter he is than American voters, and about deceiving and lying about Obamacare to get it passed. Curiously, even though Democrats repeatedly held Gruber up as one of the main architects of the ACA and an impeccable resource for their effort to take over the health-insurance marketplace, media outlets didn’t take much of an interest in Gruber’s revelations about the nature of that campaign and of the law itself.
They are paying attention now. National Journal’s Ron Fournier, a supporter of the ACA, declared himself angered and dismayed that “Obamacare was built and sold on a foundation of lies.” Its supporters should be the angriest, Fournier writes. “He called you stupid. He admitted that the White House lied to you.”
Of course, Gruber, Democrats, and the White House lied to Obamacare supporters. The rest of the critics didn’t buy the arguments at all, not even when the CBO issued faulty analyses based on what we now know was deceptive language and faked data. No one else bought them; the ACA passed Congress without a single Republican vote, and remains deeply unpopular to this day. Gruber’s gloating really is directed at those who bought the schtick, not those who saw through it all along.
The lies and deceptions speak to a deeper truth about the impulses behind nanny-state initiatives like Obamacare, and those suckered in by them. Gruber may sound especially arrogant and contemptuous of ordinary American voters, but initiatives like Obamacare are predicated on that kind of contempt. They presume that Americans can’t make their own decisions on whether comprehensive health insurance makes fiscal sense, or whether they take in too much salt and sugar in their diet, for that matter.
Nanny-state activists believe, like Gruber, that people are essentially too stupid to be left to their own devices, and that elites have to remove as many choices as they can from them – or at least as many as they can get away with taking. Gruber merely made that underlying assumption explicit, and repeatedly so. They want the government to either be the elite or to choose them – like Gruber himself was chosen in Massachusetts by Mitt Romney, and then by Democrats in 2009 – to tell people what to do.
This is the antithesis of democracy and liberty. Free will and respect for individual choice undergirds the very fabric of representational government. If people can’t be trusted to choose whether and how to buy health insurance, or even their own food, then how can they possibly choose the government that would abrogate the power to dictate those choices to them?
Gruber just made it clear to American voters what his allies in Washington really think of them. They must be hoping that Americans are too stupid to understand it. Last week’s election results show that voters may be a lot smarter than Gruber or the rest of the elitists think.
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