Liberals are in retreat this week as they recover not only from the historic defeat suffered by Democrats in last week’s midterms but also from the fallout from Jonathan Gruber’s confessions about the deceit at the heart of the effort to pass ObamaCare. The three videos that have surfaced in which Gruber strips away the veil of lies from the campaign to pass the misnamed Affordable Care Act is a major embarrassment for the administration. But while many on the right are treating this as a smoking gun that should doom President Obama’s health-care legislation to repeal, liberals are confident that this storm will pass and that the law will survive. But while they are right that nothing—not even a similar admission from the president himself—could wipe it away, they are wrong to think Gruber’s statements haven’t significantly altered the debate and may yet play a crucial role in its destruction.
Writing for the Washington Post’s The Fix column, Aaron Blake writes to claim that no matter how much they scream about the videos of Gruber in which he acknowledges that the law was drafted so as to deceive members of Congress, the Congressional Budget Office, and the American people (whose “stupidity” ensured its passage), it won’t have an impact of the future of ObamaCare.
Blake is probably right when he says the debate about the law is already so polarized that nothing will alter the opinions of those who are for or against it. However, in citing the consistency of the polling on the legislation, he should also note that a majority of Americans have always opposed it. This runs contrary to the expectation of both hopeful liberals and fearful conservatives that once implemented, the ACA would become as popular as Social Security or Medicare.
That didn’t happen because unlike those government programs, which were controversial when first suggested but ultimately accepted by everyone, not everyone benefits from ObamaCare. Indeed, there may ultimately be as many, if not more Americans who are net losers from the law than there are winners who now have health insurance. While the disastrous rollout of the law and the exposure of President Obama’s lies about allowing consumers to keep their insurance and doctors if they liked them has already done damage to its reputation, once the more unpopular individual mandates are imposed in 2015 (they were postponed by the president in order to avoid more damage to Democrats in the midterms) and insurance rates start to skyrocket, ObamaCare isn’t going to be winning more fans.
Blake’s also right that this isn’t the first evidence of deceit on the part of the Democrats who passed the law in a party-line vote. Then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s infamous line about the law having to be passed in order “to find out what’s in it” is probably just as bad as anything Gruber said.
Moreover, his conclusion that the law will, in one form or another, remain on the books until 2017 at the earliest, is also inarguable. Repeal or a complete restructuring of the scheme will require a Republican-controlled Congress and a Republican in the White House, something that can’t happen until President Obama’s term in office is over.
But, even if we acknowledge all of this, it must be understood that Gruber’s comments illustrate one basic fact of American political life that liberals have a hard time accepting: the debate about ObamaCare is not only not over, it’s just getting started.
The president and other Democrats have been fond of mocking the GOP-controlled House of Representatives’ repeated votes on repeal. Each such vote was a futile exercise in symbolism since the Democrats still had the Senate and the White House. Further, such votes won’t be any more useful as long as Obama remains in office and Republicans lack a veto-proof majority.
But the impact of the law’s full implementation will, like it or not, generate plenty of debate about how to fix a scheme that is bound to cause more damage in the next two years. This will keep the ObamaCare debate alive and well. And anyone who thinks the Gruber comments won’t be endlessly thrown in the faces of the law’s defenders isn’t paying attention. That matters because whatever the American people think about the law, and most have always rightly disliked it, they don’t like being played for saps by elitist liberals. That means the Gruber admissions will be a gift that keeps on giving for Republicans right through the 2016 elections.
However, the greatest impact of this may be, as Blake acknowledges in passing, on the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, the lawsuit that alleges that federal subsidies given in states that don’t have their own insurance exchanges as mandated by the law are illegal. Gruber’s comments illustrate that the insistence on each state having one isn’t, as Paul Krugman alleged earlier this week, a mere “typo” but a glaring flaw in the law that could sink the whole scheme.
In 2012, Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s liberals and ruled ObamaCare constitutional in an opinion that led many to believe he thought it best to keep the Supremes out of a health-care debate that should be decided by the voters and Congress. What the White House should be most worried about is not the way Gruber’s candor is playing on the cable news channels but in Roberts’ mind. The open talk about the lies that led to the legislation’s passage might be enough to convince the chief justice to go along with conservatives who rule against the government and bring the ACA crashing down long before the GOP is able to finish the job.
If so, Gruber will have earned himself a place in American political history as the man whose honesty about his lies took down Obama’s greatest accomplishment.