The Obama advisor who sparked a new round of Affordable Care Act controversy by suggesting the law's passage was thanks to the "stupidity of the American voter," apologized during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday before receiving a tongue-lashing from lawmakers.
The Obama advisor who sparked a new round of Affordable Care Act controversy by suggesting the law’s passage was thanks to the “stupidity of the American voter,” apologized during a congressional hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday before receiving a tongue-lashing from lawmakers.
Jonathan Gruber, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been at the center of a firestorm of controversy since video surfaced several weeks ago of a 2013 talk in which Gruber suggested the healthcare reform law benefited from a lack of transparency and would not have become law had Americans understood how it actually worked.
Gruber was an advisor to President Obama during the development of the ACA and also advised former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney when Romney passed healthcare reform in that state.
On Tuesday, Gruber was called before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he quickly backed away from his comments, suggesting they amounted to ill-informed political analysis by a political novice.
“I sincerely apologize for conjecturing with the tone of expertise, and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion,” he said. “It’s never appropriate to make one’s self seem more important or smarter by demeaning others. I knew better. I know better. And I’m sorry.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the committee’s chairman and one of the most vocal opponents of the healthcare law, opened his questioning of Gruber by noting that he recently attended a Kennedy Center event honoring Tom Hanks, who portrayed the “successful stupid man,” Forrest Gump. Then Issa asked Gruber a question.
“Are you stupid?”
Gruber said he didn’t think so, and Issa conceded that he must therefore be a smart man who said “some really stupid things.”
Issa then asked Gruber whether the health law has the effect of causing wealthier people to pay more so that poor and uninsured people have health insurance.
Gruber didn’t directly answer the question, but said his model lowered average premiums.
“The amount that people have to pay for health insurance fell, on average, in my model,” he said.
Issa then suggested Gruber’s modeling ought to be the subject of an independent outside review. Gruber said his model is transparent and he would be okay with that.
It’s unclear whether the Gruber incident will have long-term implications, or simply serve as a thorn exacerbating existing concern in some quarters about the healthcare law and the way it was passed. What is clear is that Gruber’s comments were troubling to both sides of the political aisle.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s ranking Democrat, said he was “very frustrated” with Gruber’s comments, which he said were “insulting.”
“They were especially harmful because they gave the opponents of the ACA a PR (public relations) gift,” Cumming said. “Man you did a great job. You wrapped it up with a bow.”