A top Obama administration health official considered putting MIT economist Jonathan Gruber to work on Obamacare to be an initiative of such “key political importance” that it was expedited because of “political push” from the Obama administration, emails released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reveal.
The agency released 750 pages of heavily-redacted records on Monday to The Daily Caller and other news outlets in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.
In one telling exchange after Gruber’s Obamacare work was first reported in 2010, one HHS analyst told another that having Democrats in charge “across the board” would “stop some scrutiny” into the arrangement. Gruber’s work attracted scrutiny because the Obama administration failed to disclose the academic’s support for the health-care law without disclosing that he was paid $392,000 to help craft it.
The biggest takeaway from the emails is that they undermine one claim made by the Obama administration that Gruber was merely a bit player in the development of Obamacare. Described by many as the “architect” of the health-care law, Gruber was thrown under the bus after numerous videos surfaced last year of him bragging that Obamacare was passed because of “a lack of transparency” into the law and because the American people “were too stupid” to realize they were being manipulated into supporting it.
The email exchanges released Monday indicate that Gruber, who implemented his proprietary economic models to help mold Obamacare, was regularly involved in email conversations and conference calls with top level White House officials and others in HHS and the Treasury Department.
The records fall roughly into two categories: policy discussions and contracting discussions. Much of the meat of the policy-related emails with White House officials and those at HHS and Treasury are heavily redacted. HHS also withheld an additional 478 pages of emails citing a FOIA exemption for the “deliberative process.”
But one theme that can be taken from the records is that the Obama administration and HHS officials were anxious for Gruber to get to work. Gruber, for his part, was equally as eager.
In one March 25, 2009, email, HHS contracting officer Clint Druk pushed to fast-track Gruber’s contract, stating that it was of “key political importance” and that “there is a large involvement with White House staff” for Gruber’s services.
In a Feb. 25, 2009, email, Druk referenced the “political push” to get Gruber’s contract nailed down.
The desperation to bring Gruber on board — and his close contact with other key Obamacare players — is in stark contrast to President Obama’s statement in the wake of Gruber’s video scandal — dubbed “Grubergate” — that the economist was merely “some adviser who never worked on our staff.”
Though others in the Obama administration have claimed that Gruber only served a technical role and did not help craft Obamacare policy, Gruber advertised his services as “integrated.” In a technical description attached to his resume, Gruber said that he would provide the Obama administration with his economic model as well as feedback on policy. He stated that he could provide policy feedback on the individual mandate as well as on what lessons could be learned from the rollout of Massachusetts’ universal health care law, which Gruber helped design.
Calling the email release “absurdly redacted,” Phil Kerpen, president of the free-market group American Commitment and a staunch critic of Obamacare, said that the records “clearly confirm that Gruber was a key architect of Obamacare, not just a guy who ran the numbers.”
“His lucrative sole-source contract … was expedited by White House political pressure,” Kerpen added, also noting that the Obama administration “thought they could get away with it because Democrat controlled Congress at the time.”
In Jan. 2010, HHS procurement analyst Patrick Joy notified Druk of a Huffington Post article which drew attention to the Obama administration’s failure to disclose that Gruber worked on Obamacare. The article noted that numerous White House officials touted Gruber’s glowing support for the health law as if he were an unbiased observer.
Noting the article, Joy told Druk that having Democrats in power would help “stop some scrutiny” that could follow from the article.
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The trove of emails contain other enlightening details.
For instance, the price tag on Gruber’s consulting contract was three times larger than HHS initially expected. On March 10, 2009, Druk made the cost overrun known to Donald Cox, a contract estimator with HHS’ office of the assistant secretary for planning and evaluation.
Cox acknowledged the message, but Gruber’s contract was ultimately approved.
In another discussion about pay, Gruber noted after he submitted his initial bid for the Obamacare gig that he had recently raised his pay rate while reducing that of his assistant.
In a March 9, 2009, email Gruber also acknowledged that the going rate for his services was “high.”
Finally, in a shock to no one, Gruber was not fond of Republicans, the emails reveal.
During one exchange with John Graves, his research assistant, Gruber criticized alternative proposals put forth by Republican lawmakers.
“Ah, those wacky republicans!” Gruber wrote in a July 28, 2009, email chain. He followed up with more criticism, writing “got to love those republicans!” and “this is crazy stuff.”
What specific policies Gruber found troubling is unclear since the emails are mostly redacted.