Jonathan Gruber was prepared to fall on his sword before the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform for what he described as “glib, mean, and insulting comments” he made about the intelligence of the American taxpayer.
Gruber was called to testify before the committee because of three years’ worth of comments he had made in public regarding the creation and implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The former Obamacare adviser explained to committee members he had made mistakes that should be blamed on the fact that he is a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor, not a politician.
“I am embarrassed and I am sorry,” said Gruber.
However, what Gruber was not ready for was the maelstrom of Republican outrage when he refused to disclose exactly how much he had been paid by the Obama administration.
Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, was also ready to apologize for misleading the committee about the number of people who had enrolled in Obamacare during a previous appearance before the panel.
She was forced to sit beside Gruber during the hearing although she had requested to be put as far away from him as possible. In the end, she was tarred with the same brush.
Tavenner was taken aback in the beginning by the grilling she received about the new numbers, whether the committee could believe the latest figures given her prior testimony, and the way the newest figures were dumped on the committee.
At the end of her four-hour-long appearance before the committee, she was visibly exhausted.
Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) used his opening statement to complain the CMS had failed to provide documents to verify Tavenner’s claim that 7.3 million people had received medical insurance because of Obamacare.
He said the committee’s request was met with delays bordering on obstruction until they received data on spreadsheets in 6-point font.
“It was something that was not readable even with reading glasses,” said Issa.
The committee requested and received an electronic transmission of the records but it turned out to be password protected and locked.
“All along it was an inherent deception,” said Issa. “You doctor the books, add additional numbers and you use careful language so that you don’t lie, but you do deceive.”
Tavenner might have been roasted by Republicans and her veracity questioned, but her treatment was nothing compared to the grilling suffered by Gruber.
Gruber was criticized for a series of comments that began in March 2011 when he said of the so-called “Cadillac Tax” that pays for expensive healthcare plans, “The only way we could take it on was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it’s really a tax on people who hold those insurance plans.”
He also criticized the “economic understanding” of the American taxpayer in 2012.
In October 2013, Gruber called the American taxpayer “stupid” and said, “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes.”
Although they, with few exceptions, voiced their endorsement of Obamacare, Democrats were also not shy about expressing their displeasure with Gruber.
“We are here today to beat up on Jon Gruber for these absolutely stupid comments he made over the past few years,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.
“These were unforced political errors, but you have given those opposing the Affordable Care Act a PR gift with a bow on top,” Cummings added.
An hour into the hearing, emotions really got intense as Gruber was questioned by Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) about how much money he had been paid by the Obama administration.
Gruber refused to say he had earned more than the $100,000 that was listed on the disclosure forms he submitted to the committee.
However, earlier in the hearing, Gruber said he was paid “$400,000, not the $4.1 million that had been reported in the media.”
Gruber told the committee that if they wanted to know more about how much he got paid, they should talk to his lawyer, or as he put it for the first of more than several dozen times, “The committee can take it up with my counsel.”
A firestorm of outrage was sparked.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said Gruber’s refusal to tell the committee how much he was paid was much more serious than a “PR gift with a bow on top.”
“Mr. Gruber testified before Congress and didn’t disclose he was being paid by the Obama administration,” said Jordan. “That is deception at its highest form. The American taxpayer would like to know.”
Gruber said he had submitted documents to the committee that showed what he earned from all federal contracts for the past two fiscal years.
Jordan said that wasn’t good enough. He demanded statements of income Gruber had received from all federal and state agencies for which he had performed work so that taxpayers could see the total “of how much were you paid by taxpayers to turn around and make fun of them.”
The Washington Post reported Nov. 14 Gruber consulted with at least eight states — Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin — to help them put together the health-insurance exchanges that are essential to the ACA.
The Republican fires of outrage burned even hotter about 30 minutes after the income questions started flying when the committee learned Gruber had served on the advisory board of the Congressional Budget Office, perhaps while he was being paid by the Obama administration.
Gruber said he did not remember attending any CBO meetings during that time, wasn’t sure of the date he started or the date he stopped serving on the board, but he did have “communications” with the CBO.
He also said he did not remember how many times he visited the White House as an adviser for the Obama administration.
That earned a laugh from Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who said he couldn’t believe someone would have trouble remembering how many times they had been in the White House.
Chaffetz demanded information from Gruber on all the work he performed for the White House and the Congressional Budget Office.
“Committee can take this up with my counsel,” said Gruber.
“What are you hiding?” said Chaffetz. “Why will you not give us those documents? Who paid for them?”
“I am not sure,” said Gruber. “The committee can take it up with my counsel.”
Issa said he couldn’t imagine an economist would have so much trouble recalling numbers and warned Gruber of the possibility of a subpoena for the records, adding that another committee hearing had become a probability.
“I am done with you,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.). “I didn’t think this could possibly get worse, but it has.”
Gruber repeatedly told the committee that he never lied about Obamacare, but he did “conjecture” about things “while playing an amateur politician.”
Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) told Gruber he should no longer describe himself as an economics professor.
“You have progressed in your ability to be political to the point of being entirely political.”