Shortly after last fall's election, tapes surfaced of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber smugly describing how deception, "lack of transparency" and "the stupidity of the American voter" had been "critical" in allowing Democrats who controlled Congress to ram Obamacare through in 2010.
This was important because the law Gruber helped write restructured nearly a fifth of the national economy and upended many people's healthcare arrangements. The Obama administration paid him some $400,000 for his efforts, and he also managed to snag millions more dollars for consulting gigs with various state Obamacare exchanges.
When Gruber's comments surfaced, no one ran away from him as quickly as President Obama, who dismissed him as "some adviser who never worked on our staff." The president and his officials pretended that Gruber had been a bit player in the passage of the law.
It turns out, however, that this was as wildly inaccurate as Obama's promise that his reforms would allow people to keep their health plans if they wanted to.
This week, the Wall Street Journal reported on 20,000 pages of emails between Gruber and federal officials that pertain directly to Obamacare's development and passage. The academic appears to have earned his pay, having been in nearly constant communication with Obama's top economic, healthcare and budget officials. He had the ear of Larry Summers, who was the president's top economic adviser, who at one point actually wrote to him asking: "If you were POTUS, what would u do now?" That's not the sort of email that many people receive — certainly not those at the lower end of the cast of characters. Gruber was also invited in summer 2009 to meet with Obama himself.
He played a role in persuading wavering Democrats in Congress, such as former Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., to vote for Obamacare. He was privy to inside information as the White House negotiated with labor unions over a provision they disliked and wanted removed from the bill. He provided the White House with information on who would be the "winners" and who would be the "losers" when Obamacare became law.
In fall 2009, as Congress prepared to take up Obamacare, one of Obama's most senior healthcare advisers wrote to Gruber, "Thank you for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment." In another email, she referred to him as "our hero." That's a far cry from "some adviser who never worked on our staff."
Obama's deception on all this is in the true spirit of Gruber's controversial comments about duping the electorate. The law would never have passed if the process had been transparent and the legislation properly understood. It would not have made it across the finish line if it hadn't been written in a "tortured" way to prevent the Congressional Budget Office from evaluating it, as a narrow majority on the Supreme Court did later, as a massive tax increase.
And for all that deception — despite the enormous costs — and the sharp increases in premiums and deductibles, Obamacare has only reduced the share of chronically uninsured people only a little below the numbers that prevailed when Obama took office. The decline is from from 10.9 percent of the population in 2009 to 8.4 percent in 2014, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The White House is trying to downplay the Wall Street Journal story, with a spokeswoman claiming, "These emails only echo old news."
That's true in a way. Obama was dishonest about this law in 2009 and 2010, so when he continues to be dishonest about it five years later, it's hardly a shock.