Former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Says Jonathan Gruber Didn't Influence Congressional Authors of Obamacare. That's Not True.


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Jonathan Gruber, the MIT professor and Obamacare architect who recently made headlines when a video was unearthed of him saying that the law's backers relied on "the stupidity of the American voter" in order to pass the law, is set to testify in front of the House Oversight committee next week.

In an interview with USA Today earlier this week, former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was asked what she thinks he might say. Here's how Sebelius, who presided over the first several years of Obamacare's implementation, including the botched rollout of the exchanges in 2013, responded:

"I have no idea what Dr. Gruber is going to say, but frankly I don't think that it's relevant in terms of his personal opinions of what happened," she told USA Today. "He was not author of the bill itself. He didn't influence the members of Congress who actually wrote the legislation."

This is not strictly true. Gruber was not the sole author of the bill itself; like most lengthy pieces of legislation, it had multiple authors. But Gruber claims he was one of them. In a videotaped 2012 lecture about how the law works, he says that he "actually wrote" the portion of the bill dealing with small business tax credits. News reports have also credited Gruber with helping to create the law's structure and draft its specifics. 

As for Gruber's influence, there's little question that he influenced key provisions of the bill. He participated in an intimate White House meeting with President Obama that led to the inclusion of the law's Cadillac tax on high-deductible plans. He made multiple trips to the White House, according to visitor logs.

And he certainly influenced legislators, including those who were closely involved in the drafting of the bill.

Sen. Max Baucus chaired the Finance Committee while it drafted a version of what would eventually become the health law. According to a 2010 statement from his staff, "Senator Baucus wrote the bill that passed the Finance Committee and then worked with his colleagues to write the health care bill that is law today." He is one of Obamacare's primary elected legislative authors.

We know that Gruber influenced Baucus, because in December 2009, during a debate about Obamacare, Max Baucus cited Gruber's work by name on the Senate floor, describing at length a Gruber-authored study looking at Obamacare's expected effects on health insurance premiums. Baucus was pointing to Gruber's study in order to help make the case for the bill, which suggests that it helped shape his thinking. In the same speech, Baucus also praised Gruber's work and reputation, saying "most people think he is one of the best outside experts." In other words, Baucus, one of the health law's key backers and authors, is citing work by Gruber that he found convincing, and attesting to Gruber's wide influence.

It's unclear whether Sebelius is intentionally misleading people about Gruber's role or whether she is simply misinformed. But when says that Gruber "didn't influence members of Congress who actually wrote the [Obamacare] legislation," she is wrong.