Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you are familiar with the new archnemesis of conservatives everywhere, MIT economist and Obamacare legislative consultant, Jonathan Gruber. Hell, even country singers and reality show judges are expressing outrage. For our subterranean readers, here’s a summary:
Over the course of the last few years, but especially in older videos that have surfaced beginning on November 12, Gruber honestly and soberly dismantled nearly every argument made in support of Obamacare: that the legislative process was transparent, that everyone could keep their plans, that premiums would go down, that it wasn’t a trojan horse to end employer coverage, that tax credits would apply to the federal exchange.
Subsequent headlines and tweets from the right have been full of checkmate, jackpot, smoking gun, and other imagery overflowing with finality. But this is not a game, a contest, or a mystery to be solved. What do the Gruber revelations accomplish, really? For Obamacare, almost nothing.
Unless Jonathan Gruber comes out of his self-imposed media exile and can somehow convince President Obama to sign a full repeal of his signature legislative accomplishment (assuming the new Republican majority can pass one), then what changes? Unflattering media coverage (such as it is) doesn’t repeal four-year old laws — a majority of Congress and a President do, or a supermajority of Congress does. Neither of those are available until at least January 2017, providing a Republican wins the White House and retains bicameral majorities.
Might Grubergate spur additional support for marginal reforms to Obamacare to make it slightly less terrible? Possibly. There is already support for tweaks to the medical device tax and other planks of the policy.
But should Republicans celebrate those changes or even support them? I have argued both yes and no in the past. For the sake of the current members of Congress who may run for president in 2016, it might be a better idea to avoid any attempts at marginal reforms to avoid messy vote records. Especially with Obama still determining the ultimate fate of any legislation, the risk is probably greater than even the likelihood of success.
But even if Gruberghazi has no actual effect on Obamacare, it can be a useful primer against the dangers of technocratic statism for the future. The naked cynicism of Gruber’s comments and those of his previous supporters (now all completely unfamiliar with him, of course) are instructive.
This episode in our real life House of Cards should make impossible any future attempts at comprehensive 2000-page bills full of kickbacks, pork, bailouts, offsets, staggered rollouts, and accounting gimmicks. While the problems Congress addresses with its legislation are complex, that legislation should not be so complex that we must pass it to find out what’s in it. We must not assume a bill’s scope or attempted reform is self-evidently worthy.
Details matter. Process matters. Gruber proves that for us.
Editor’s Note: Jon Stewart over at The Daily Show actually has a pretty good run-down, too: