Smug Filled Rooms

As the story broke bit by bit over the internet -- one angry citizen’s (Rich Weinstein) research established that MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, a major architect and salesman for ObamaCare, boasted in 6 separate videos that he lied and that voters were “too stupid” to catch on -- we got to see inside what Professor Charles Lipson smartly coined “the smug filled rooms” of the Capitol.

Many observed the only “stupid” people were the Democrats who -- without a single Republican vote -- twisted parliamentary procedure to pass this into law, accepting California’s constitutional genius Nancy Pelosi’s admonition, “we have to pass the bill so you can find out what’s in it.”

The revelations could not have come at a worse time for the administration.

For one thing, the Supreme Court just granted certiorari in the King case. That case tests whether the clear language of the ObamaCare subsidies for those who sign up under state-run plans was improperly extended by IRS to signers on the federal website, a bit of administration legerdemain to keep ObamaCare viable after 37 states refused to set up state insurance exchanges.

You see, Gruber’s arrogance revealed that the scheme was not only contrary to the clear language of the statute, but as well to the intent of its authors. He has gravely undercut the administration’s argument to look beyond the language to sustain their expansion of it. While countless Democrats -- including especially Nancy Pelosi  -- who credited and relied on Gruber’s work now act as if they never heard of him, they can’t so easily dispose of him and his role in the creation of Obamacare .

James Taranto spotted this dilemma:

In March, a group of left-leaning “economics scholars,” including Gruber himself, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case of King v. Sebelius, then under consideration by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (Last week the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of the case, now styled King v. Burwell.) The March brief appealed to Gruber’s authority:

‘Economist and MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber has developed a sophisticated economic model that allows for a robust prediction of outcomes in the health care system, depending on various policy changes. The Gruber Microsimulation Model (“GMSIM”) utilizes two primary sets of data: (1) Fixed information on individuals, derived from 2011 Current Population Survey data and updated to 2013 and later years; and (2) varying information on policy parameters, which inform the changes in price and eligibility of various forms of insurance. . . . The GMSIM has been cited as one of the leading options for modeling health insurance reforms such as the ACA [the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act].’

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit sided with the administration in King. On the same day, a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled for the plaintiffs in Halbig v. Burwell, another case raising the same legal question -- to wit, whether the Internal Revenue Service exceeded its statutory authority in making tax subsidies available to purchasers of medical insurance policies on the federally run exchange.

The plaintiffs rest their argument on the plain language of the statute, which limits subsidies to taxpayers “enrolled in [policies] through an Exchange established by the State.” The administration’s defenders, including Gruber, have argued that the plain-language interpretation is counter to congressional intent and that the limitation is a mere “typo.” That claim is nonsensical, as we observed Monday. Even if it was a drafting error, it was far more serious than a mere typo.

But as we noted in July, Gruber himself had asserted on multiple occasions that it was Congress’s intention to limit the subsidies to state-established exchanges. In that view, Congress’s intent was to make it so attractive to set up an exchange that no state would refuse.

Last week, the day before Election Day, 18 Democratic state attorneys general, led by Virginia’s Mark Herring, filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit, arguing that the full court should reverse the panel’s decision in Halbig. According to them, Gruber is no authority at all:

‘The best that Appellants and their amici come up with are YouTube videos of Professor Jonathan Gruber, a private citizen at non-governmental meetings in January 2012, years after the ACA was enacted. But Appellants fail to demonstrate that Professor Gruber’s message was disseminated to the State officials responsible for determining whether to build their own Exchange. In any event, Gruber later corrected himself, calling his earlier statements a mistake.’

Back in July, Gruber rather hilariously characterized his earlier comments as a “speak-o.” Presto, change-o, typo, speak-o! 

The Democratic state attorneys, who distanced themselves from Gruber in their brief, are not alone. As each new video appears more administration backers claim they never heard of him, he’s “a private citizen” and such.  

But you cannot pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars, cite him in your speeches and on your websites and in your briefs as an authority and then credibly pretend you don't know him . 

Gruber was retained by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2009 on a $297,600 contract to provide “technical assistance in evaluating options for national healthcare reform.” Gruber also confirmed to the Washington Post that he was paid another $95,000 before that, for a total of nearly $400,000. 

Around this time, his analysis was not only featured on Pelosi’s House speaker website in 2009, but cited by the White House several times. Though he often was billed as an analyst in media interviews where he touted the merits of the plan, critics complained his financial ties to the administration weren’t disclosed.

Gruber also spent a good deal of time testifying on the Hill and in meetings at the White House -- 19 visits from 2009 to June of this year, according to publicly available logs

Apart from his work in Washington, he went on to bag similar contracts for health care work at the state level after that, working six-figure deals with multiple states.

“He talks himself about being in the Oval Office, on loan to Congress, particularly the Senate Budget Committee,” Rich Weinstein, who helped dig up the Gruber tapes, told

This pack of lies -- Gruber’s and his supporters’ -- seriously undercut faith in government and the administration. As Professor Lipson concludes:

The Gruber videos are devastating because they say flatly that the deception was premeditated and was used self-consciously to pass the law. The professor goes further and says the law would have been defeated if its central provisions had been known to voters.

Assuming Gruber's message is true, it means the Obama administration deliberately evaded our democratic process to pass its signature legislation. Its justification, which Gruber makes explicit, is not only that "we know what's best for you," but also that "you are too dense to know that yourself."

This arrogant, condescending approach extends far beyond Obamacare. It is an essential feature of progressive politics for the past century. From the outset, progressive politics yoked expert advice to expansive state action, especially redistributive policies to help the poor.

It says, "We are experts who want to help you, the great unwashed. You are too stupid and uneducated to know how to know what's best for you. Since we do know, and since we have your best interests at heart, we will handle those complex choices for you."

It's an intellectual's version of noblesse oblige.

We do need experts, of course. We need them to design satellites and sewer systems, plan interstate highways, set safety standards for food and skyscrapers, and defend our country.

But as a democracy, we need voters and their elected representatives to make the basic choices about what to do and which trade-offs to make. It is voters and their representatives who should decide whether to buy a new sewer system, wage a war, build a new highway or send rockets into outer space. Those choices ought to be made after vigorous public debate, not in the smug-filled rooms of the Progressive Policy Institute or MIT Faculty Club. 

If that weren’t enough to cause the purveyors of ObamaCare indigestion, there’s this: the cost of coverage under the Act will substantially increase this year. As Tom Maguire notes of the administration’s suggestion we use the Thanksgiving break to shop around to get the best new deals on health insurance: “If you like your health plan you can reminisce about it.” 

And there’s more, as they say on the late night TV gadget ads

Penalties will rise under the individual mandate and the employer mandate will take effect.

After being delayed for a year, large businesses (100 or more employees in 2015, 50 or more in 2016) will be required to offer affordable (and subsidized) health plans to at least 70 percent of their full time employees or face a $2,000-$3,000 penalty per employee. 

This mandate will lead to fewer full time employees being hired.

You’d think after covering for the ObamaCare architects during the legislative process, pillorying its critics and sitting on the Gruber revelatory videos the press would slink off somewhere in shame.

Instead, they continue for the most part to sit on the story or downplay it, reporting if they do at all that Gruber had also worked on Romneycare. So what? That made Gruber’s persistent and arrogant lies about ObamaCare okay?

And now they -- NBC’s Chuck Todd, NPR’s Alisa, Chang, Peter Foster (Washington editor of the UK Telegraph) and Jeremy Peters (Washington bureau of the NYT) -- are off on a new angle: contending as a matter of fact that the Republicans who swept the midterms -- in large part because voters were not as stupid as the press and knew Obamacare stunk -- have “an obligation to govern”.   

In other words, to prove they are worthy, they must give the losers what they want. Actually, as Jay Cost reminds us in debunking past years’ meme -- that the Democrats had achieved a permanent majority -- that’s not how our republic was designed. 

“The rules of the game” at present favor a Republican Congress and Senate and a Democratic White House, and to govern without opposition you must win all three. The Democrats didn’t, and their dreams of a radically egalitarian government is in any event at odds with both the constitutional scheme and the facts on the ground. That is likely to remain the state of the union especially now that sunlight has entered the smug filled rooms which for so long have closeted   academics at the government till and their johns in the Democratic Party.

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