What he really said

December 04, 2014

Rutland Herald

When Professor Jonathan Gruber explained why the Affordable Care Act was worded in a confusing way, right-wing hypocrites had a field day trumpeting their outrage about lack of “transparency” and quoting his comment about “call it the stupidity of the American voter” without including his next words, “or whatever.” Here are the words Gruber actually spoke:

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If (Congressional Budget Office) scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. OK, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money — it would not have passed. … Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass. And it’s the second-best argument. Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.”

Gruber was referring to more than the tax penalty now paid by those who choose not to buy health insurance. He was referring to the possibility that all premiums would be “scored” as taxes, thus turning them into part of the national budget. That happened when President Bill Clinton tried a national health care bill, and it doomed the bill. In contrast, by forcing people to buy private insurance or pay a penalty, the Obama bill avoided nationalizing health care.

If you didn’t immediately understand what you just read, are you stupid? No. Is it “transparent”? No. Is “lack of transparency” a “huge political advantage”? Sometimes, yes. Look at how some Republicans sought votes by confusing voters into thinking that health care reform in Vermont would take away their Medicare. Yet these folks are the same ones who attack Professor Gruber for stating a nasty fact known to political observers: Lack of transparency can get votes.

HERBERT G. OGDEN

Mount Tabor