Republicans think they’ve just happened upon a major moment in the never-ending political debate over Obamacare: Newly discovered video of White House consultant Jonathan Gruber’s controversial comments about the passage of the law.
In the video, from 2013, Gruber suggests the details of the law were obscured in order to assure its passage. He says the bill relied on the “stupidity of the American voter” and a “lack of transparency.” Pretty damning stuff.
Republicans, naturally, think they just might have this goose cooked now, with the Post’s Robert Costa quoting Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) calling Gruber’s comments a potential (for lack of a better term) game-changer — one that could finally help turn public sentiment against Obamacare for good and assist the GOP’s efforts to dismantle it.
“We may want to have hearings on this,” Jordan told Costa. “We shouldn’t be surprised they were misleading us.”
But while it’s clear this is hardly Obamacare’s proudest moment, the idea that Gruber’s comments will suddenly swing public sentiment against Obamacare is wishful thinking. That’s because any damage Gruber did — ultimately — was to himself, and nobody knew who he was before last week.
What did Gruber actually do? In The West Wing terms, it is the classic Washington scandal — get into trouble for telling the truth. In a city where it is a cliche not to show how the sausage is made, Gruber was exposing something sordid yet completely commonplace about how Congress makes policy of all types: Legislators frequently game policy to fit the sometimes arbitrary conventions by which the Congressional Budget Office evaluates laws and the public debates them.
Indeed, when Gruber discusses the ignorance of American voters in the video clips, no political scientist who knows even smidgen about American public opinion would have raised an eyebrow. This isn’t because political scientists look down on voters; it’s because they have surveyed voters repeatedly and discovered that rational ignorance is this is just the way it is.
But stating that most voters are uninformed about most things is one of those rude utterances that one just does not say in polite political company. People can say it behind closed doors, or at academic settings, but never on camera.
Gruber, unknowingly, said it on camera. That’s his sin. And I suspect it’s a sin that countless social scientists have committed at myriad conferences over the years.
But Obama didn’t say it, and it doesn’t change what Obamacare is, or how we, as a country, are benefiting from it.
Nor will it lead to Obamacare’s downfall, despite the zeal of many conservative pundits who think this is THE “smoking gun”. That’s because Gruber’s comments, while damning, aren’t exactly the most fertile political territory. While “stupidity of the American voter” is a pretty strong soundbite, Gruber’s connection to the law takes some explaining. And most people — apart from those who already decided the efficacy of the law years ago — are really keen on the latest Obamacare debate a week after the 2014 election.
Changing public opinion on something like this, five years hence, takes a lot — especially when the support and opposition have been baked in for so long at pretty constant levels.
If anything can change that, it is far more likely to be something that has a personal impact on lots of Americans — like large premium increases or canceled plans. And if Obamacare is dismantled, it will be because the GOP has Congressional majorities and a president who wants to do it. That means no earlier than 2017.