A leading architect of Obamacare admitted that Democrats gamed the bill’s budget score and misled the public on the bill’s taxes in order to pass it, proclaiming that "Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage" for Obamacare supporters.
It’s not news that Obamacare was built on lies. We’ve known it for years. But as we enter into a public debate over another Obamacare case at the Supreme Court, it’s important to keep in the front of our minds the willingness of the law's advocates to mislead for what they believe is a good cause.
MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber is widely hailed as the most important architect of the Affordable Care Act. He also has a penchant for saying interesting things on panel discussions.
“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure [the Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes,” Gruber said on a 2013 panel, a video of which came to light this week. “If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” Gruber also responded to a charge made earlier in the panel that the law had a “dumb way” of subsidizing high-risk insurance customers. Gruber tacitly granted as much, but said, “if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed.”
The deceptions Gruber was admitting can be explained this way: First, Obamacare’s authors gamed the CBO to make the bill’s cost look a lot smaller. Also, Obamacare’s authors disguised a middle-class tax hike as a non-tax provision. Finally, Gruber admitted that Obamacare was made so complex in order to hide one of its central purposes: redistributing money from the healthy and low risk to the unhealthy and high-risk — from the young to the old.
These deceptions were crucial to Obamacare’s passage. In September 2009, as the Obamacare push hit full stride, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos called the individual mandate “a tax increase.” Obama glowered at Stephanopoulos: “No, no. That’s not true, George. The — for us to say that you’ve got to take a responsibility to get health insurance is absolutely not a tax increase.”
Keeping the price tag of the bill under a trillion dollars was also crucial to getting wary Democratic senators. The CBO gaming got the bill under that threshold.
Finally, Obama and his allies always pitched the individual mandate as a way to prevent free-riders from going uninsured to an emergency room. Gruber seems to admit that the mandate is part of a jury-rigged effort to make “healthy people pay in and sick people get money.”
Compromise, and passing second-best policies is part of politics, but Obamacare stands out as a law built on a foundation of lies. Here are some others:
“If you like your current insurance,” President Obama said, directly facing the camera, in the West Wing, “you keep your current insurance. Period. End of Story.” He knew that wasn’t true, but he knew he had to say it in order to sell the bill.
“Under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions,” Obama said, scolding those who disagreed. The GAO found that in Washington State, at least, this was false: Federal subsidies were paying the entire premium for policies that cover elective abortions.
Obama sold the bill as a broadside to the special interests. From the Rose Garden in July 2009, Obama knocked the drug companies as a “special interest” trying to “kill” the bill. He knew that wasn’t true, because the drug lobby was working hand-in-hand with his top aide to craft the bill, get it passed, and to defend Democratic Senators endangered by supporting it. Behind closed doors, the White House apologized to drugmakers for that line, blaming a “young speechwriter.”
Obamacare’s defenders thought their bill was best for Americans, but apparently felt they were up against the “stupidity of the American voter,” as Gruber put it. We silly Americans just don’t know what’s good for us, and so Obama and Gruber had to lie to get us to take our medicine.
This matters because the debate over Obamacare continues next year in the Supreme Court case King v. Burwell. The question is whether the law’s subsidies for people on “an exchange created by a state” can be offered on the exchange created by the federal government.
Gruber, in another video, explained that states would have an incentive to build an exchange so its people could get subsidies.
Given the clear text of the law and Gruber’s admissions on other occasions, the Democrats’ argument in King is: we obviously never intended to exclude the federal exchange. If it’s an argument about legislative intent, Obamacare’s authors are asking us to trust them.
That will be pretty hard to do.