Why #Grubergate Can Never Die

What was uncontroversial—Jonathan Gruber helped the White House develop the ACA!—is now scandalous for one simple reason.

Decorated easter eggs are seen hanging on a tree in Britzer garden park in Berlin on April 21, 2014.

ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

There's no question that conservative media is driving the current Easter egg hunt that we've come to call #Grubergate. The story is proceeding along familiar react-quote lines, with Democrat after Democrat insisting that this Jonathan Gruber guy was as tangential to the writing of the Affordable Care Act as, say, Pete Best was tangential to writing "Hey Jude." The latest denier is President Obama himself, who argues that "the fact that an adviser who was never on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is not a reflection on the actual process that was run."

To most people, the fact that Gruber got paid enough in consulting fees to push him into the top tax bracket would suggest that he really did work on the law. This is why the story is so sticky for Democrats—to deny Gruber is to deny the history of how the Affordable Care Act was sold. And while Republicans are happy to do that, Democrats have no contingency plan to explain the law in a Gruber-less world.

Over at Vox, Matthew Yglesias has a great example of how Gruber's being erased from history. Ron Fournier, a one-man acid test of beltway analysis, asked why a "partisan" ACA was passed, and why Massachusetts's successful health care experiment didn't lead to a "bipartisan agreement to bring that plan to scale." Of course, the whole reason that Gruber arrived in Washington was that he'd consulted on Romneycare. "In substance, you still have a program that is very much on the Massachusetts model," writes Yglesias. "That's the whole reason Jon Gruber came to be a prominent proponent and exponent of the federal law."

In 2012, Gruber actually appeared in an Obama campaign video about the history of Romneycare. "I helped Gov. Romney develop his health care reform, or Romneycare, before going down to Washington to help President Obama develop his national version of that law," he said on camera.

That interview is now being used to further the #Grubergate story. What was uncontroversial—Jonathan Gruber helped the White House develop the ACA!—is now scandalous.

There's more! In a new op-ed, Bush administration veteran Tevi Troy uses "Gruber's deception" as a starting point to explain that the "Cadillac tax" on high-end health care plans was sold dishonestly. "As Mr. Gruber’s remarks were unearthed last week," writes Troy, "economist Mark Wilson and I released a study of the excise tax that shows he is right about its deceptive design. The tax is likely to hit many people who don’t have high-end coverage." Yet as Jonathan Chait points out, before he became president of the American Health Policy Institute, Troy favored exactly this kind of tax. It was yet another Republican idea that got sold externally and internally by He Who Must Not Be Named. (By which I mean Jonathan Gruber.)

Gruber, who declined to comment on the various new attacks when I reached out him last week, has become completely toxic. No Democrat is willing to defend him. What's more, the left wing of the party, which always hated the Republican ideas that made it into the ACA, has attacked Gruber for years and only redoubled its criticism as the wonk became health care's Emmanuel Goldstein. Democrats are choosing to dissemble about Gruber than to explain and defend his research, his contracts, his Romneycare pedigree. That's no defense at all. That's why the right and left, in equal measure, can denounce Gruber and insist that any plan he supported was a plan built on lies. And, hey—are any Supreme Court justices hearing this?

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