Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare adviser who lambasted the “stupidity of the American voter,” worked more closely with top administration officials than thought, despite President Barack Obama’s efforts to downplay Gruber as a low-level consultant.
A new trove of emails obtained by the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee and shared with the Wall Street Journal show Gruber had a high level of access to top brass in the administration between January 2009 and March 2010, when Obamacare was passed into law. (RELATED: Emails Reveal Jonathan Gruber’s Obamacare Work Was Of ‘Key Political Importance’)
Gruber, an MIT professor, was hired as a consultant to the Department of Health and Human Services on Obamacare. A number of videos and recordings emerged last year showing Gruber’s disdain for the “stupidity of the American voter,” and expounding on the “huge political advantage” the administration had because Obamacare was passed with little transparency — leading the administration to distance itself from the professor. (RELATED: Obamacare Architect: Lack Of Transparency Was Key Because ‘Stupidity Of The American Voter’ Would Have Killed Obamacare)
“The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is no reflection on the actual process that was run,” Obama said of Gruber’s comments in November 2014.
But Gruber’s relationship with the administration appears much cozier than previously represented. Gruber was in contact with key advisers; he verified his own role within the administration with top officials while dealing with media requests; and he even worked to convince a key senator to support the legislation.
“His proximity to HHS and the White House was a whole lot tighter than they admitted,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told the WSJ. “There’s no doubt he was a much more integral part of this than they’ve said. He put up this facade he was an arm’s length away. It was a farce.”
Gruber was in contact with key advisers on the health-care law, including Peter Orszag, then-director of the Office of Management and Budget; Jason Furman, then an economic adviser to the president who is now chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers; and Ezekiel Emanuel, then a special adviser for health policy at OMB.
“Thank you for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment,” Jeanne Lambrew, a top administration official at HHS and the White House, wrote to Gruber in September 2009. In another email several months later, she hailed Gruber as “our hero.”
Far from being an independent contractor, Gruber regularly consulted with Lambrew when answering questions about his relationship with the Obama administration. Gruber went to Lambrew for advice when a Politico reporter asked why he had not disclosed his administration contract before writing about health care policy, and asked Lambrew to review his description of his own responsibilities at HHS before responding. Gruber also spoke to top HHS officials about his interviews with other reporters, including one with Ezra Klein, then at the Washington Post.
And top administration officials came to Gruber with serious queries as well. Lawrence Summers, who was in August 2009 a top economic adviser, emailed Gruber to ask about the content of the legislation itself: “if you were POTUS, what would u do now?” Gruber told Summers Obama should “hold out for enough money to do universal coverage,” according to the WSJ.
Apart from policy questions, the emails provide a picture of Gruber being intimately involved in selling the health-care law as well. Gruber kept HHS informed about his conversations with Louisiana Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who originally opposed Obamacare but eventually supported it.
And in Jan. 2010, Furman emailed Gruber that “we got a deal with labor. Keep that very close hold.” The administration had been fighting for the support of unions, who eventually came around to support Obamacare’s passage.
In his typically blunt style, in a May 2009 email Gruber gave an analysis that the health-care law would produce some 3.6 million “losers,” who would be forced into individual coverage under the proposal.
“As you might suspect, this group is largely young and healthy,” Gruber wrote.
He also predicted in August 2009 that 4.2 million people with employer-provided health coverage would be dropped, but that has not occurred.
The emails also show that Gruber pushed for financing the bill on the backs of pharmaceutical companies, as well. Gruber wrote to Lambrew in September 2009 that “pharma is going to be a huge winner from this bill — maybe $15 billion/year in incremental revenue. Any way to go after them harder for financing?”
The Department of Health and Human Services has brushed aside the new trove of emails, calling them “old news.”
“As has been previously reported, Mr. Gruber was a widely used economic modeler for administrations and state governments run by both parties — both before and after the Affordable Care Act was passed. These emails only echo old news,” HHS spokeswoman Meaghan Smith told the WSJ.
Apart from working directly for the Obama administration on the health care law, Gruber also consulted for Mitt Romney’s administration in Massachusetts on his health-care law, as well as doing work for Vermont, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and California. (RELATED: Gruber Has Made At Least $5.9 Million For Government Work)
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