Washington University paid out more than a semester’s worth of tuition to host MIT economist Jonathan Gruber for an hour-long speech he gave there last year — a speech in which he said that Americans are “too stupid” to understand Obamacare.
It costs just under $23,000 per semester to attend the private school in St. Louis. But the school spent $26,000 to bring in Gruber, a key Obamacare adviser, to speak at a health forum there on Oct. 4, 2013, according to a 2013 article in the school’s student paper.
It is unclear if Gruber pocketed the entire sum, but details laid out by the student paper indicate that the payment included speaker fees. The lecture circuit booking firm Leigh Bureau lists Gruber as a client.
Gruber declined The Daily Caller’s request for comment, and school officials did not respond to a request for more information on the payment.
Gruber’s talk, which was part of the school’s GlobeMed conference, was entitled “Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works.” It was free, open to the public, and included a book-signing afterwards.
It was at that event that Gruber made one of many comments that have come to light this month and landed the so-called Obamacare architect in hot water.
“They proposed it and that passed, because the American people are too stupid to understand the difference,” Gruber said at the forum.
He was discussing what is known as “the Cadillac tax” and how it was pushed through Congress. The Cadillac tax is a 40 percent excise tax on the most expensive health care plans. The goal of the tax is to cut down on “excess benefits.” Doing so, Gruber and other economists believe, will slow the growth of health care costs.
In a 2012 speech at the University of Rhode Island, Gruber spoke on the same topic, saying of the Cadillac tax, “It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” (RELATED: Obamacare Architect Talks About ‘Exploitation’ Of American Voters)
Those remarks carry the same dismissive attitude Gruber has expressed in other venues. At an academic conference last year at the University of Pennsylvania, Gruber said that a combination of Obamacare’s “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” was needed for the federal health care law to pass.
While the Obama administration and other Democrats have distanced themselves from Gruber since his remarks surfaced last week (President Barack Obama said he was just “some adviser”), the Washington University student who pushed to get Gruber to come to the school thought he was important, calling him “the big guy.”
“A lot of campus has a lot of misconceptions about what the mandate is and what health care reform means,” sophomore Antea DeMarsilis told the school paper about Gruber. Obamacare’s state exchanges officially opened several days before Gruber spoke at the school.
“We decided that if we’re going to do this, going to make a big statement, we might as well go for the big guy, and we got him. And so I think that we’re really going to make a change in anybody that comes to watch.”
In its April 2013 vote, Washington University’s Student Union Treasury agreed to spend a total of $77,000 to host both Gruber and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman at events for that fall semester. Other speakers who were considered but were passed over by the student group include feminist Gloria Steinem, surgeon-journalist Atul Gawande, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and former Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs.
The Gawande event would have cost $63,000, according to the student paper. A proposed debate between Gingrich and Gibbs would have run $79,000.
Gruber earned $392,600 as an adviser on Obamacare and, according to an analysis conducted by TheDC, has been paid at least $5.9 million by the federal government and several states for work on various health-related topics. (RELATED: Gruber Has Made At Least $5.9 Million For Government Work)
TheDC reached Gruber through email asking for information on his earnings for speaking at Washington University and to see if he was paid for his speeches at the University of Rhode Island and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, but he declined to comment.
Update: A spokeswoman for the University of Rhode Island responded to TheDC’s inquiry about Gruber’s lecture at that school. She said that the economist was paid $12,500 for his speech there in 2012. That is almost the exact amount that it costs to attend the public school for an entire year.
A spokesman for the University of Wisconsin-Madison tells TheDC that Gruber was paid $4,990 for his speech there in Oct. 2013. The school also paid $1,126.90 for travel and lodging for Gruber. The spokesman said that the money came from a private endowment and not the school itself.