By Sarah Ferris - 12/08/14 08:21 PM EST
The Jonathan Gruber show is coming to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, with House Republicans set to grill the former ObamaCare adviser for his controversial remarks about the “stupidity” of voters who let the law pass.
The hearing is likely to be a spectacle, with cable news networks planning heavy coverage, as Gruber takes the witness stand to answer questions about his ties to the Obama administration and his consulting work for the Health and Human Services Department.
Gruber’s connections to the White House, as well as his nearly half-million-dollar federal contract, are likely to be the dominant focus of the hearing, one of the last for outgoing House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who has served on the Oversight Committee for more than 20 years, said he wants to know exactly how closely Gruber worked with Democrats on ObamaCare and how much money he made doing so.
“Within the administration and the White House, there’s plenty of ties to this guy,” Mica said in an interview.
Mica said Democrats have left Gruber “high and dry” after multiple videos surfaced in which he suggested the administration took advantage of an ill-informed public to pass the Affordable Care Act.
In one video, Gruber said voters were “too stupid to understand” the law’s main tax; in another, he said the legislative process relied on “the exploitation” of the public.
After the videos went viral last month, President Obama dismissed Gruber as “some adviser who was never on our staff,” while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she didn’t even know who he was.
Opponents of ObamaCare say Democrats are changing their story.
They note that Gruber has been to the White House 21 times and met with multiple members of the administration, including Obama, according to visitor logs. Pelosi’s office also cited his work in a 2009 policy analysis.
“Why was Mr. Gruber called an ‘architect’ of ObamaCare by The Washington Post, someone who was lauded by President Obama and cited by then-Speaker Pelosi, and is now just ‘some advisor’? ” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in a statement.
As Gruber steps into the line of fire on Tuesday, he might find little protection from Democrats who once paid him nearly as much as the presidential salary for his consulting work.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee’s top Democrat, said he would use the hearing to mount a defense of the healthcare law, not Gruber.
“If the Republicans want to take time and throw darts at Mr. Gruber, so be it,” Cummings said. “I think he has put himself in a position to be asked almost anything.”
Democrats signaled their strategy for the hearing with their choice of witness: Ari Goldmann, who bought health insurance through the federal marketplace and who struggled to find coverage for his pre-existing condition before the law took effect.
Cummings said the witness would offset what he called the “major distraction” caused by Gruber over the last month.
Republicans will also use the hearing to raise other problems with ObamaCare, such as last month’s misreported enrollment tally.
Marilyn Tavenner, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will be pressed to explain why she provided an inaccurate enrollment count to the committee earlier this fall. The figure was off by nearly 400,000, a miscount that was just enough to push the number over the administration’s initial target of 7 million enrollments.
Tavenner and the Department of Health and Human Services say the error was unintentional, but Republicans, such as Issa and Mica, have said they are skeptical.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said he is also planning to grill Tavenner on how the CMS plans to help customers who might see their tax bills increase if their federal healthcare subsidies change.
The issue, little known outside of policy circles, will pose a problem for many of the people who signed up for a benchmark plan in 2014 through the insurance marketplace but choose not to switch their coverage in 2015.
If the new yardstick plan is cheaper, people will qualify for fewer subsidy dollars and find themselves unexpectedly owing money to the IRS the following tax season.
“The significance of this is troubling to me, when you realize what CMS is doing and not doing to inform people that they will get a tax bill [if they do not actively re-enroll],” Meadows said in an interview Monday.
“There’s a difference between telling people ‘you might get a better premium price’ — which is true and everyone should do that — and telling people they’re about to get the wrong subsidy if they don’t re-enroll.”
Elise Viebeck contributed.