MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has given remarkably different accounts of a 2006 meeting he had with then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on the issue of health care policy, saying in one interview that Obama was “very interested” in the topic while asserting in another that he sensed Obama’s “heart just wasn’t in it.”
The revelation comes as Gruber is being heavily criticized for his candid comments about how Obamacare was passed. The Obama administration paid Gruber $392,600 for his consultation work on the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010.
In a 2012 interview with PBS’ Frontline, Gruber discussed the two occasions on which he met Obama — once at the White House in 2009 to discuss Obamacare and another in Obama’s Senate office in 2006 shortly before Obama announced he was running for president.
“I went down, basically did a tutorial for him on what we had done in Massachusetts and how it would work and basically thinking about expanding it to the national stage,” Gruber said of the 2006 meeting in the PBS interview.
“And what was he like then?” the interviewer asked Gruber, who said he was a supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2008 presidential campaign.
“He was very interested. It was really just an information session. He was really interested in learning. He clearly was not interested in little incremental things. He wanted to be bold. That was clear,” Gruber said.
The economist compared his meeting with Obama to those he had with Romney while the former Massachusetts governor was developing that state’s health law. Gruber consulted Romney on the law.
Gruber said his meeting with Romney was a decision-making meeting while the one he had with Obama was educational.
“He was there to learn,” Gruber said of Obama.
“And I just felt more relaxed around — Obama was a little more relaxed. I think he took a cigarette break halfway through. That is back when he was smoking a lot,” Gruber remembered, adding that Obama “was just kind of casual, interested in learning, very humble. Obama is very humble.”
“And Obama was a quick study, had a kind of quicksilver mind about it?” the interviewer asked.
“Yeah, yeah, absolutely,” Gruber answered, adding that his discussion with Obama was an “intellectual discourse.”
“He was a super-quick study. He really understood it,” said Gruber, adding, “I mean, very much kind of debating, interested but absorbing and not trying to act like he knew more than he knew, and just really interested in learning.”
But this is a drastically different recollection of that 2006 meeting than the one Gruber gave to Paul Starr, a Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist from Princeton University.
“But Gruber, who met with the senator towards the end of 2006 in Washington, says Obama did not appear at the time to be very knowledgeable about health policy,” Starr wrote in his 2011 book “Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform,”
“It just wasn’t his thing. I just sensed his heart wasn’t in it,” Gruber told Starr, adding that he was surprised later that Obama had done a “masterful job” as president.
“I regret thinking he wouldn’t,” said Gruber.
Gruber also met with Obama and several other economic advisers in the summer of 2009, he told PBS.