In recent testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Jonathan Gruber, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, offered an apology to the American people for his "thoughtless," "insulting" and "disparaging" comments and his "inexcusable arrogance" toward them in describing his work with the Affordable Care Act.
Ranking member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., concurred by saying Gruber's comments were "absolutely stupid," "incredibly disrespectful" and a "political gift" to the law's opponents.
While this was a good beginning, Gruber has not gone far enough.
According to Gruber, he functioned as an economic consultant for the Obama administration, providing policy analysis of the president's healthcare initiative.
He described the methodology to help pass this legislation this way: it was structured so the Congressional Budget Office would rule that the plan did not contain a tax on the American electorate. He suggested the "lack of transparency" and "stupidity of the American voter" were crucial in the successful passage of the legislation.
Ironically, the Obama administration subsequently argued before the Supreme Court that the legislation is constitutional because it DOES contain a tax on people who do not purchase healthcare insurance, and the federal government is permitted to tax. The majority of Supreme Court justices agreed with this analysis and upheld the law in June 2012.
Gruber also indicated federal subsidies would not be available to states that did not set up state exchanges. However, the Obama administration has provided the subsidies anyway. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments concerning this issue shortly.
Further complicating the federal subsidy process is an email I received from Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.,
in which he suggested Congresspersons and their staffs are subject to all the same provisions of the Affordable Care Act as is the general public. However, in the same correspondence, he went on to say the Office of Personnel Management would permit the federal government to contribute to their health insurance premiums.
This provision effectively allows subsidy payments to individuals who would not ordinarily qualify under the Affordable Care Act and seems to contradict his previous remarks.
In a charge to the 2013 graduating class of MIT, President L. Rafael Reif said the MIT family is "world famous." He went on to say: "But I also want the family of MIT to be famous for how we treat people: Famous for sympathy, humility, decency, respect and kindness." (Disclosure: my son currently attends MIT.)
Gruber has acknowledged how he erred. He now needs to be more forthcoming to Congress in identifying how he was compensated: the amount, sources and time frames. At the Congressional hearing, Gruber refused to provide information related to his compensation from federal and state taxpayers for his work on this legislation.
Five hundred years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli warned of political constructs that operate based on expediency, where the end justifies the means. Gruber should now reject this notion and recognize that the end does NOT justify the means.
The American people could accept passage of this bill if it were presented in a more forthright manner, especially if there was bipartisan support for such a landmark policy.
If this legislation is permitted to stand under these circumstances, it will enable egregious political deception to persist.
This would not bode well for the future of our country.
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