Jonathan Gruber's Excuse for his Obamacare Subsidies Speak-O Grows Weaker Still


Jonathan Gruber's excuse for his now-infamous Obamacare subsidies "speak-o" (really, speak-os)—a couple of dug-up remarks in which he described the health law as limiting subsidies to state-run exchanges, just like the law says, and exactly the opposite of the way that the Obama administration has decided to implement the law—was weak from the start.

At the end of last year, he appeared before Congress to explain away the 2012 remarks he referred to as "speak-os" (the verbal equivalent of typos), saying that the point he believed he was making was actually "about the possibility that the federal government, for whatever reason, might not create a federal exchange." The context of the original remarks, which started by noting that a federal fallback exchange was required under the law, made that excuse hard to swallow. A newly unearthed interview weakens the excuse further.

In his congressional testimony, Gruber elaborated on his excuse. When he made the original "speak-o," in which he said that "if you're a state and you don't set up an exchange that means your citizens don't get their tax credits," he was worried about the federal exchanges because setting them up "was a very complicated task" and because "we weren't sure who would be President when the time came to stand them up." After all, a GOP administration might do a worse job, or even resist the law's requirement that the federal government set up a fallback. The original statements about the exchanges were made in January of 2012, before the election.

Here's the problem: Gruber was still worried about states not setting up their own exchanges after the election.

As Phil Kerpen of American Commitment notes, Rich Weinstein, who uncovered the original Gruber clips, has found yet another interview, this one with the magazine Employee Benefit Adviser, in which Gruber expresses worry that "stick-it-to-the-man conservative" states won't set up exchanges "at the cost of their state residents." That interview took place in March of 2013—after the election, when there was no longer any question about who would win the 2012 election. 

The excuse Gruber provided in testimony appears in legal briefs supporting the administration's decision to allow subsidies in federal exchanges, a challenge to which will be heard early next month at the Supreme Court; this was necessary since the administration originally relied heavily on work by Gruber to defend its implementation. 

This latest find, however, probably reveals less about the legal particulars of Obamacare than it does about Gruber, a widely quoted expert on Obamacare who, over the last year proved himself to be a self-serving liar. (He claimed on multiple occasions over several years, for example, to have helped author the law, and then insisted in congressional testimony that he did not.)

It's not exactly surprising, given the previous weaknesses of his excuse, which he has admitted was an after-the-fact rationalization designed to fit his previous statements with what he now says he believes. But it does suggest, once again, that the Jonathan Gruber of 2014 or 2015 is not a particularly reliable guide to the Jonathan Gruber of 2012, and that the best explanation for what Gruber said back in 2012 is that his clear and unambiguous remarks about the limits Obamacare places on subsidies, which match the clear and unambiguous text of the health law itself, have not been taken out of context but in fact mean exactly what they appear to mean.