- The Washington Times - Monday, November 17, 2014

President Obama says he did not mislead Americans to get his health care law passed, addressing for the first time recently unearthed comments from a key backer who said a lack of transparency and the “stupidity of the American voter” were central to its passage.

Mr. Obama is the latest administration official to downplay MIT professor Jonathan Gruber, whose role in crafting the Affordable Care Act has become toxic since his comments came to light.

“The fact that some adviser who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters, is no reflection on the actual process that was run,” Mr. Obama told reporters Sunday at the G-20 Summit in Australia.

Mr. Obama’s defenders have rushed to put distance between the law and Mr. Gruber, although former White House senior adviser David Axelrod did begrudgingly dub Mr. Gruber’s contributions “valuable.”

“As one who worked hard to make ACA and its benefits clear, let me say: If you looked up ‘stupid’ in the dictionary, you’d find Gruber’s picture,” Mr. Axelrod initially wrote on Twitter Sunday. On Monday, Mr. Axelrod clarified that Mr. Gruber’s contributions to the law were “valuable,” while his “throwaway quips” were “offensive.”

Mr. Gruber, an economist who runs a model that can analyze changes to the health market, earned nearly $400,000 consulting with the Department of Health and Human Services in the run-up to the law’s passage, and has earned hundreds of thousands of dollars more from states who asked for his help in implementing Obamacare.

Asked if he would be welcomed back as a consultant, HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said her department is focused on its work at hand.

“With regard to Mr. Gruber and his comments, I think I’ve been clear: That’s something we fundamentally disagree with,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The Obamacare exchanges began their second round of enrollment this weekend, but the law is still deeply unpopular. A new Gallup poll said 37 percent support the law, which is an all-time low for Gallup’s surveys.

In the comments that have just come to light, Mr. Gruber said the health care bill was written in a “tortured” way to ensure the Congressional Budget Office didn’t score the individual mandate as a tax. In a surprise decision in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the mandate as constitutional under Congress’ taxing power anyway.

“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Mr. Gruber said at the time. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to get the thing to pass.”

Some of Mr. Gruber’s other recently unearthed comments, though, also contradict the central argument of the Department of Justice in another lawsuit headed to the U.S. Supreme Court alleging that citizens of states using a federally run health insurance exchange, rather than a state-operated one, are not eligible for government subsidies under the law.

“What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits — but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill,” Mr. Gruber told one audience.

In court briefs, administration lawyers have downplayed Mr. Gruber’s remarks or dropped him from their arguments entirely in contending that even though the law says the subsidies should only flow to state exchanges, they should also flow to states that have opted for federally run exchanges.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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